Wednesday, August 01, 2012


An ancient woodland lets you see long histories preserved in the shapes of the oaks, especially the bur oaks, like this one.

How did it get its craggy shape?

The answer will be speculative – but likely true.

At least two hundred years ago, another tree  grew just to the left of this tree. That tree (now gone) became a big old monster, and the Z tree grew up literally in its shadow. At first, the Z oak grew fairly straight, but as the older tree grew and spread, the Z oak had to reach out more and more to the right to get its light.

Then something dramatic happened – at just about the time when the second big branch on the right was forming. The big tree died, or was blown over, or got chopped down. At that point, huge light was available to the east, and a new trunk-like branch headed straight left to soak it up.

Great job, tree! There’s something righteous and moving in how the struggle, determination and triumph of an ancient tree can be openly revealed in its architecture.

(This tree of noble character is near the beginning of the Outer Loop trail, in the southeast corner of Somme Prairie Grove.)


Daniel Thompson said...

If I would dare to make a list of my favorite Midwest trees, bur oak is at the top. They have long lives and each one is interesting in its own way.

There must not have been evidence of the older one next to 'Z' oak, or you would have mentioned it.

I do some work on a nature preserve. Every time I go there I walk past two old maple trees with one or two large horizontal branches. Their shape indicates they became old long ago without competition for light. Wish I could communicate that in a poem.

Stephen Packard said...

Daniel, many people would agree with your admiration for the bur oak. I certainly do.

You're right, I saw no other evidence of the previous shading tree. It probably died, fell and rotted gloriously back into the soil decades ago. And yet the evidence was there - in the shape of the "Z" oak.

Poem or not, you communicate very well. Thanks.

Steve Halm said...

Is the "Z" tree going to face any challenges due to its less than straight growth? Will the uneven weight distribution of the trunk be an issue?

Stephen Packard said...

Will the "Z" tree face challenges? Perhaps it's less stable because of its creative shape. But oddly-shaped bur oaks have lived for hundreds of years in spite (or because?) of those challenging shapes.