A Kichwa indigenous community in northern Ecuador has been in mourning since the start of 2020 after the death of a sacred tree.For the past century, generations buried the bodies of unnamed children around the base of the tree, which they believe protected the children’s spirits.Its death and subsequent funeral, which attracted more than 80 attendees ranging from government officials to residents from nearby towns, are a reminder of how the death of even a single tree can cause bereavement and lead us to reflect on humanity’s impact on the environment. PUCARÁ ALTO, Ecuador — Bellowing winds thrashed the farmers’ corn stocks and the wild patches of eucalyptus cropping up the largest hill in Pucará Alto. Then there was a crack, and it was all over. Pinkul Tayta, the great tree that rose out of the peak of the hill and was rumored to have lived for hundreds of years, split at its trunk due to the winds and fell sideways into the grass of its barbed-wire enclosure. Women and men from the community ran up the hill to glimpse the corpse in disbelief, some wailing beneath the sun of the noon sky. For as long as its elders here say they can remember, the indigenous Kichwa community of Pucará Alto, a village of about 800 people in the northern Andean province of Imbabura, has made the trek up to Pinkul Tayta to pray for rain, fortune, good health and fertile livestock. The “miracle tree” guarded their petitions just like it guarded the willki wawa, which is Kichwa for “angel children.” That’s how residents describe the hundreds of children who were buried in brunette scarves and clay pots at the hallowed base of the tree since at least the middle of the 20th century. But unlike the myriad Catholic cemeteries in Ecuador where the living go to mourn the dead, Pinkul Tayta also doubled as a “connecting link” between nature and humanity, said Alberto Cahuasquí, a language teacher from Pucará Alto whose family was emotionally devastated by the tree’s demise. “This tree was like a church,” said Cahuasquí, during a funeral for the tree that took place in February. “A place where people could congregate and be with God.” To others it acted as a quiet custodian who carefully watched over this agrarian community. “We’re orphans now,” a neighbor texted Cahuasquí on the day the tree fell.