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Goodbye to the 'Honk Tree'

 A tree has died in Minnesota. You may think it sounds silly, but the tree's demise has made those of us who knew it sad. And mad. 

From the time I was a small child on the shore of Lake Superior, it was special when we drove past the "Honk Tree."

The pine tree stood awkwardly and proudly in the vast median of Highway 61 between the northern Minnesota towns of Two Harbors and Duluth. During the summer months, it had green grass at its feet, and in the long winter months, white snow.

Stephanie Himango
The famous "Honking Tree" landmark on Minnesota's Highway 61 before it was destroyed by vandals.

As the story goes, in the 1960's, a highway engineer named Charlie Hensley insisted that during construction of "the new highway 61," the tree should be spared.

For years, it was known to be the only tree to stand in the median for that 21-mile stretch. Over the years, it grew from a small tree to a big strong one.

Some people called it the "honking tree," and some of us called it the "honk tree." Every, and I mean EVERY, time we drove past that stretch of road, the honk tree would get our attention. For a second, conversation would cease so we could toot the horn at the tree. Parents and kids – we were all in on it.

We didn't know why we did it. Perhaps it's just something those of us from a small town like Two Harbors would do. You probably have your own version in your hometown.

Sometimes we'd talk about whether there was a proper protocol for tooting the horn at the tree. I always did the double "Honk! Honk!" Some friends honked for the number of people in the car. Some held the horn down looooooong for one beat.

On Thursday I received a text message from a dear friend which read: SOME IDIOT CUT DOWN THE HONK TREE LAST NIGHT. I AM SICK ABOUT IT.

I suddenly felt the same way. 

The tree was a symbol. It always meant we were almost home. It welcomed us. It was reliable. It was pleasant. And talk about resilient – it braved decades of bitter winters. 

But on a recent spring night, unknown vandals used a chain saw and cut it down. Only a low tree stump remains. 

For people from Two Harbors, it was kind of like the North Star.  And now it's gone.

Honk! Honk!