Life Lessons from the Attempted Murder of a 262-Year-Old Tree

Might it foreshadow the beginning of the end of the world?

Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD
4 min readAug 12, 2022


Photo courtesy of author

Not all trees are equal. Some are bigger, older, and more majestic than others. Of course, all trees matter, but not to the same degree or in the same kind of ways.

Some trees become the focal point of a neighborhood because of their beauty, age, and scale. They become a place where people gather together, and they take on a symbolic significance within the community.

And some trees have a more personal meaning. They matter because we pass them every day. When walking the dog or driving to work. They are like old friends. A permanent fixture in our lives. A reliable and trusted presence that makes us feel secure and comfortable.

And so, when someone attacks one of these “special” trees, it can be deeply moving. We are left asking “why?” and “what does this mean?”

Here is my tree story.

A Real-Life Murder Mystery

It was a sticky Friday morning in July.

We know the dog isn’t fond of hotter, summer temperatures, and so, my wife decided to go out early when the temperature was still in the low seventies. Our dog is usually very excited about her walk, but this time was different. She was restless and stressed. Tail down. Ears back. Rapid panting. Was it the weather? Or something else?

Once outside, my wife sensed that things were different. The penetrating smell of burnt wood and resin filled the air. All the birds that frequent the neighborhood had fled. Swirling blackened leaves, unlike anything she had seen before, gave the things an eerie, almost apocalyptic feeling.

What had happened?

A few hours earlier, a group of teenage boys set fire to a 262-year-old tree about one mile from our house. Firefighters responded quickly but couldn’t prevent the tree from being severely damaged.

My wife sent me a picture. You could still see the smoldering timber.

The caption of her picture simply read “shocking.”

Survival of the Fittest



Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD

Prof (law) exploring the collision of life, work, and technology, with a current project in the works - a sci-fi novel.