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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

The Ultimate Recycling Project




Last December while going through my news feed, I came across a story of a 300-year-old oak tree that had to be cut down after losing one of its branches.  Rather than discard all the wood, a chain-saw carver, Colin Vale came up with a unique and practical idea to repurpose The Linden Oak, the largest white oak tree in Montgomery County, MD.


The article below from The Washington Post tells the story and the video clip following the article highlights the big reveal in addition to providing background on the thought process behind the sculptured bench which is truly a work of art. Enjoy!


A 300-year-old tree was cut down in Md.  A wood sculptor transformed it.  The park bench is expected to last for about two decades before the wood begins to decay.

by Kyle Melnick

The Washington Post

December 24, 2023


When a long branch fell from one of Maryland’s oldest and most beloved trees earlier this year, chain-saw carver Colin Vale inspected it and began envisioning how he could turn it into a sculpture.


The Linden Oak, the largest white oak tree in Montgomery County, stood for about 300 years in North Bethesda, Md., before it was sawed down in July to keep it from becoming a safety hazard. Hoping to preserve the tree’s memory, county officials hired Vale, who studied the health of the branches after construction workers chopped them.


Vale spent months deciding how to commemorate a tree that began growing before America’s founding. After selecting a nearly 11-foot-long branch to transform into a bench, he settled on carving the left side of it into the shape of an acorn sprouting roots and oak leaves. The right side features a carving of a buffalo, an animal that lived in the county at the time the tree was planted.


Vale unveiled the bench this month at a Kensington, Md., park, about a mile north from where the tree stood. He said he hoped the sculpture, which he named “Connected Through Time,” would portray a sliver of the Linden Oak’s life.  “I tried to kind of empathize with the tree … and try to imagine what it has seen over the last [300] years or so,” said Vale, 32.


Montgomery County officials estimate that the Linden Oak, which stood near the intersection of Beach Drive and Rockville Pike, was planted in the early 1700s. Standing more than 95 feet at its peak, the Linden Oak had held the title as the county’s largest white oak tree since 1976.


By the summer of 2022, the tree had died and lost multiple limbs. Colter Burkes, Montgomery Parks’ senior urban forester, began brainstorming ways the oak could be commemorated.  “If we didn’t do anything with it,” Burkes said, “it might just kind of be forgotten.”


The Linden Oak tree in North Bethesda, Md., was cut down in July. The tree was estimated to be over 300 years old. 


Near the start of this year, Burkes contacted Vale, a chain-saw carver who has worked on multiple sculptures in the county. Vale, who grew up in Olney, Md., about 10 miles north of the tree, said he didn’t know much about the Linden Oak but joked that he might have inhaled its pollen at one point.


In the spring, Burkes and Vale examined which parts of the Linden Oak were healthy enough to sculpt. Vale said the oak from the back of the tree was rotten, but a few branches on the front, some of which were about 65 feet long, could be preserved.


Montgomery Parks officials decided to cut down the tree in June. The next month, Vale and a handful of community members watched as construction workers removed its limbs, putting most of them into a woodchipper.


“I’m looking forward to making something really beautiful and lasting, and maybe even touching, out of a large log from this tree to help it last even longer in people’s memories,” Vale said in July.


The Linden Oak’s 25-foot-tall trunk, and three plaques honoring the tree that had been posted on nearby rocks years earlier, remained in their original spots.


Construction workers moved a nearly 11-foot-long branch to a concrete slab at Ken-Gar Palisades Local Park for Vale to carve. Vale, who was finishing a wooden statue elsewhere in Kensington, settled on the bench’s design in early October.

He sketched an outline that included a stem draping over the bench and blossoming into two oak leaves while a second stem, representing the tree’s taproot, wrapped underneath it.


The back of the bench features two oak leaves, including one that serves as a seat. In mid-October, Vale started cutting the branch with a 20-inch chain saw. Five days per week, he packed a vegan sandwich and spent between three to eight hours carving.


A few weeks after he began, when the bench was mostly carved out, Vale started to use smaller chain saws to design the acorn, buffalo, leaves, and tree stems. He finished the project on Dec. 4 and spread oil across the bench to preserve the wood.


On Dec. 7, dozens of people gathered around the bench, which was covered by a red tarp. Vale threw the tarp over his right shoulder as community members cheered at the sight of the finished bench. Vale said it will probably last for about two decades before the wood begins to decay.


Earlier this month, Vale visited the bench and saw a man and a child inspecting the carvings. The child ran to sit in the leaf-shaped seat on the back of the bench — a moment he said makes him smile whenever he thinks of it.


When you have time, I hope you’ll take two minutes to watch this brief video of the bench’s unveiling and the inspiration for the carvings.





WATCH NOW


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