Stupid Old Oak Tree by Kathleen McKitty Harris


Close up photo of tree bark
Photo by Kathleen McKitty Harris

It’s just a stupid old oak tree, I keep telling myself, while I sit at the kitchen table and watch the white winter sunlight bathing its branches. It’s dying, I say, as I wipe away tears and busy myself with numbing, necessary tasks. Its branches are dropping and it’s trying to tell us and it’s going to kill someone in the process, I think, on frigid, windy nights when its massive canopy creaks and arches over yards humming earlier in the day with shrieking children and yapping dogs.

It’s necessary, I explain to a neighbor, when I inform them of the date of the tree’s removal and apologize for the noise that will result: the high-pitched, agonizing whine of machinery and the rumble of fiber and cellular structure succumbing to it, the bark of hard-hatted, leathery men directing its demise. I don’t mention the opaque, blanketing quiet that will remain, after the cherry picker truck has driven away, and the sawdust filters into the grass. But I will hear that, too.

It’s gone, I will whisper to myself next spring, when the maples unfurl their polynoses and the crocuses burst forth from the warming earth, and when I still see its mottled bark in the swath of negative space that remains, even though the light shines more brightly in its absence.

Kathleen McKitty Harris

Kathleen McKitty Harris is a fifth-generation native New Yorker whose work has appeared in Longreads, CRAFT Literary, Sonora Review, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, and The Rumpus, among others. She is a Glimmer Train Press short story finalist. Her essay, “A Timeline of Human Female Development”, appears in My Body, My Words, an anthology centered on body image and positivity. Kathleen also perform as a storyteller and was recently featured on the Moth Podcast. She co-hosts the “What’s Your Story?” reading series in her backyard in northern New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and children.

You can find Kathleen on Twitter and Instagram at @kmckharris, or read more of her work at

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