Oliver: What goes bump in night causes thump in wallet

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

As someone who cherishes every moment of sleep, I can be forgiven for being more than a little annoyed at being rudely awakened by a loud noise at 1 a.m. last Monday.

The noise was loud enough to cause me to get up and look out the window. After all, it was the middle of the night, and we live on a fairly quiet street.

I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to see.

There, filling my driveway, was a very large branch from my old oak. The circumference of the main portion could have been a large tree all by itself.

Mind you, this was a quiet summer night. The wind wasn’t howling and it wasn’t stormy. However, there sat a huge mess of what used to be part of our bur oak.

My next thought was “Oh no, did it hit our Subaru?”

Much to my surprise and relief, the top of the branch that fell had only grazed the SUV. Had we still had my Honda, the Subaru would have taken a direct hit, since we both parked in the driveway.

Still, there was no way I was going to get the Subaru out of the driveway anytime soon.

Then there was the issue of the wire that also had come down with the tree branch. I quickly figured out it wasn’t electrical (thank goodness!) or the phone line (yes, I still have a landline; remember I’m a dinosaur). So that left the cable line, which seemed to be the least of my worries at that moment.

I decided to wait until morning to deal with it. The branch wasn’t blocking the sidewalk, wasn’t in the roadway and hadn’t taken out any wires that would endanger anyone.

So what exactly happened? Turns out, this phenomenon has a somewhat obvious name: sudden branch drop or summer branch drop.

Oaks apparently are quite susceptible to it, as are sycamore, elm, eucalyptus and beech trees, according to Davey Tree, a company that deals with trees. Unfortunately, no one really knows why it happens, so it’s hard to prevent it from happening again.

One theory is that the condition is caused by high humidity within the tree’s canopy, which leads to excess moisture that weakens the tree’s structure, according to Davey. Another theory is that it has to do with bacterial wetwood, an internal issue in the tree.

Still, when the McHenry Public Works crew swung by, the very nice gentleman who looked at the tree noted that there wasn’t any rotting at the spot that broke off.

This is what my arborist, who had come to look at it about an hour earlier, had mentioned, too. He also said that portion of the tree had been very heavy with foliage, which could have contributed to it snapping.

I had made a call to my tree service at
7 a.m., since I didn’t want to waste any more time than was necessary in getting this taken care of. By 8 a.m., the arborist had stopped by and gave me a quote on the cleanup. Ouch.

By 1 p.m., the mess was gone. And by noon the next day, the cable had been repaired and we were back in business.

After that unexpected adventure, here’s hoping the rest of the oak stays put.


On a happier note, the McHenry County Master Gardeners needs your help to identify worthy gardens in the Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Cary areas to be a part of the McHenry County Garden Walk next year. If you know of a garden that would qualify, please contact Anne Miller at 847-366-1315 or

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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