Old Oak Tree Saved by the Hands of Fate?

How often do you get the opportunity to make a difference to the fate of a living organism that towers over you? And how often have you saved the life of a living entity that weighs in at several tons? Recently, a manager in Microsoft’s Data Center Services group got to experience that feeling. But can you identify who it is?

Microsoft recently announced the grand opening of the San Antonio data center. This state-of-the-art data center will eventually hold tens of thousands of containerized servers to power Microsoft’s new Software plus Services offering. The environmental recycled water program, the fiber optic networks, the affordable energy costs, and the work and life balance for Microsoft employees undoubtedly made San Antonio a great site for this project.

But one thing marked this site out as different, even before the earth movers and shakers arrived. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, we’re talking about the old oak tree. Although it didn’t get a yellow ribbon round it, this old oak tree was touched by the hands of fate.

Right outside the door of the new data center at San Antonio, there stands a mighty old growth oak. Judging from its size, it was probably an acorn at the time when John Hancock was mulling over the course of human events and what things really were self-evident. Thankfully, all talk of chopping it down to count the rings has ended, as the tree is now an integral part of the site design and a monument to the importance of the environmental policy at the site.

clip_image002The fate of this tree all went back to one offhand remark that this Microsoft manager made to San Antonio City Council. The story goes that at an early on-site meeting with the council, the manager was asked how many old growth oak trees would be saved. He waved a fateful hand vaguely in the direction of the planned site for the center and committed to save them all.

Fortunately, there was only one within the site perimeter (although a lot more were saved around the perimeter which help to shade the data center from the sun and reduce cooling requirements). Unfortunately, for Turner Construction Inc., this one old growth oak was right in the middle of the construction site.

But the old oak tree has generated far more controversy than might be expected, for there is more than one claimant to the title of the tree’s savior. In fact, for the complete story, there is only one side we haven’t yet considered: the tree’s. Until now, that is…

Armed with a specially adapted microphone and a laptop running the Entish release of Windows Vista, our intrepid reporter obtained the following transcript over a period of about three weeks. The recording has been edited for clarity and to remove some rambling poems that our reporter had to sit through.

“It must seem very confusing, going from living in a quiet San Antonio neighborhood to being the centerpiece of this Microsoft data center. What has been the biggest change you have noticed?”

“Well” starts a deep, earthy voice that rumbles like the bass section of a Russian choir. “Let me see. Changes. Ah, yes. I certainly see a lot more of you little people running about. I can’t work out how you do it, not needing any roots.”

“So what do you do most days, here on the site?”

“Well, most of the time, I just stand here. It’s not like I can pop off on holiday, is it? Sometimes, the smokers stand underneath me and I get to hear a bit of gossip. At other times, I wave when people come in through that strange revolving door in the morning. No-one ever waves back, though.”

“Are you aware of how famous a tree you are? I mean, the people who build this site had to make the earth move to keep you here.”

“Famous, am I? Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, there are far better-known trees than me. How about that oak in England that King Charles hid in? Now, that’s famous.”

“Ha. Modest too. I like that in a tree. So tell me, what was it like being here during the construction? You literally had to watch it from start to finish.”

“It was quite shocking, actually. I would probably say it was beyond my imagination. It started off when they put a small blue box under me and people popped in and out of it all day.”

“ Yes, the workers would like to say sorry about the lavatory. But it was the only place on site that had any shade.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have minded, but it was such a waste of good organic matter. We trees need that stuff. And that reminds me, what about our terms for this interview?”

“It’s OK, I’ve got hold of a good ton of nicely rotted horse poop. I’ll spread it on when we’ve finished.”

“Good. But do make sure it hasn’t got any shavings in it. Those could be my relatives.”

“So tell me what happed during construction.”

“Well, I got a bit scared when the workmen starting chopping everything else down, but then a big man came and gave me a hug and I felt a lot better. In fact, I do remember getting lots of hugs over a few weeks. It made a change from people just coming over and watering my roots with those little hosepipes they seem to carry about with them.”

“So it wasn’t just one person that hugged you?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know their names, you know. It’s not like people talk to me very much. The only one that did was that Prince chap. Very friendly, he was.”

“Prince? Short chap, dressed in purple?”

“No, a real Prince, he was. Very pleasant. Asked me if I’d always been an oak and had I been growing long. I think he was related to that King I was telling you about.”

“So who hugged you first out of these two?” clip_image004


“How should I know? You mammals all look the same to me. Oh, no, I see one of them has what looks like mistletoe on their face. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him.”

Thank you, O mighty oak tree. I’ll bow out and I’ll leave you to your well-earned manure.

Do you know the identity of our mystery tree huggers? To whom do the hands of fate belong that preserved this ancient tree? E-mail us at pwersoft@microsoft.com if you know the answer (kudos only).

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