I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.
—From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer


As those in our community that visit campus each day already know, Riverbend’s landscape changed in an unexpected way late in the summer. The sun shines on us differently now in the absence of the catalpa tree’s shadow on our Upper School building. A visit from the town’s tree warden warned us that, unfortunately, the trunk had hollowed significantly, and given the stability risk that this posed, it was determined that we needed to remove the tree.


We reflect on all that the catalpa tree gave us during the more than 75 years that her heart-shaped leaves graced these grounds where children learn, play and grow at Riverbend. After all, trees are essential to our lives, not only as part of our environment, but also as they become parts of our own stories. The trees we encounter throughout our childhood and into adulthood root us in our memories and our experiences. They ground us in our world and offer endless opportunity for wonder and joy. People and animals alike enjoyed our catalpa tree. It was a popular spot for students to gather during recess and a large hole at the base of the tree offered shelter for the squirrels, and their friends.


Eighth grader Elliot Woessner came to bear witness to the catalpa tree’s final moments on
campus, with his grandfather who also knew the tree as a former resident of Natick. Eliot reflected on the tree’s presence and longevity, connecting generations in his family. “This tree has been here as long as I can remember, even as long as my grandfather can remember,” he remarked. “The campus feels so different without it.”


Indeed it was with a sense of sadness that we removed the tree, but in the process we saw how dangerous it would have been for it to remain. The photo we’ve included here is looking into the stump, hollowed out up to about eight feet with a very heavy crown of limbs, many of which were also hollow. At least two people could stand in the space inside the tree and the margins were very narrow for a tree that size, so a strong storm certainly could have taken it down.


We were blessed to bathe in the sweet smell of the catalpa tree’s flowers as they fell each year, and in some ways it feels our campus has lost a friend. In ancient traditions, a tree is a symbol of physical and spiritual nourishment, transformation, life, and growth. There couldn’t be a more perfect metaphor as we honor and learn from the catalpa tree, given that what brings us to Riverbend each day is just that – the nourishment, transformation, and growth of future generations.


We have saved a good deal of the wood and a beautiful cross-section for our study and appreciation. This brings exciting opportunities for teacher collaboration and work with our outdoor learning curriculum, exploring the increased sun on the building, creating memory books, and so on. Head of School Christine Price will continue to discuss next steps, including the potential for planting a new tree. Meanwhile, with gratitude for the presence that the catalpa tree had in all of our lives, we pause to enjoy a bit more light in our days on campus in these wintry December days.

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