A few weeks ago, Lake Saint Louis City Arborist Lorri Grueber got a call from a resident about a permit to remove a tree. Now, that's not unusual, it's Lorri's job. But in this case, it was a very unusual tree.
"When I went to inspect the tree I found a 50” diameter white oak. A branch had fallen from the tree, and the branch was almost a Landmark Tree on its own," Lorri said. Upon further inspection, it was found that the fallen branch and the main trunk of the tree were filled with bees.
"Sadly, the tree must be removed as there is too much decay to allow it to remain and the bees are a big issue as well," Lorri said.
Not only was the oak a very large and very beautiful tree, it was special. In 1976 it had been designated a Liberty Tree.
The tree was on the property of Mrs. June Bux, who moved to the home on Belfort Court with her family in 1974.
In 1976, the Missouri Department of Conservation came to Lake Saint Louis to measure the tree. They gave the Bux family a wooden plaque that read "Liberty Tree 1776-1976."
June was proud of her tree. She decorated it with red, white and blue bunting and placed the plaque at its base. She talked about it so much that one neighbor teased her. "I'm sick of hearing about that tree," he said.
June retaliated by sneaking out one night and decorating a tree on his property with rags. She thought that her prank had put an end to the joke, but one morning she looked out her kitchen window at her oak tree in disbelief. It was wearing a large brassiere, courtesy of her good-humored neighbor.
Now, 36 years later, the grand old oak had to go.
"They took all the branches off and it was like a totem pole standing there," June said. "Then they tried to pull it down with a truck and a chain."
The tree stood, unmovable and unrelenting, until the truck's front tires rose off the ground with the strain.
June was watching it all. She spoke to her old friend, "You've had a wonderful long life. Just let go."
It took a bigger truck and many, many more tries but the big tree finally gave up and fell. A neighbor said she could feel the vibrations in her kitchen when it hit the ground.
Neighbors had driven their boats into the cove to watch the show, and they honked their horns and cheered.
Days later when I visited with June, she showed me the wide new view of the lake from her kitchen window. The back yard sloping down to the sea wall looked empty. "I need to think about what I want to plant there now," she said.
June shared stories about her family and their life on Belfort Court, in the shade of the Liberty tree. She told me about her late husband watching as the lake was being built. She told me how the house was placed at a angle on the lot to save the oak. She told me that her family had races up the sloping hill and that she used to always win. Then she brought out her Liberty Tree plaque. The lettering was faded, but still readable: 1776-1976.
I thought about how sad it was that such a grand thing, something that had been here long before there was a lake or a Lake Saint Louis, was gone.
"I saved some acorns from the tree," June said. "I'm going to give them to my great-granddaughter to plant."
Nothing is ever completely gone. Someday, somewhere, another white oak is going to spread its branches to the heavens, and another family will grow up in its shade and decorate its branches in red, white and blue.
In her original email to me, Lorri Grueber had said that the white oak "in its day was quite grand and now the gentle giant must fall. It seems a proper obit is in order."
I hope I did it justice.