October 2015
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The Oak Tree

I’ve always loved trees. I climbed them as a kid. I built a tree house. I ran into one once, but it wasn’t the tree’s fault. It was standing there minding its own business while I chased a Frisbee. I grew up in a suburban home with mature hardwood trees on the lot. That’s probably where my affinity for them started. Later when I bought my first house, it was a priority to find one with a lot of trees. Then when I bought my second house, I still chose one with a lot of trees – even when it was unusual for the neighborhood. I wish I had understood sooner what my priorities would eventually become. Trees were clearly always important to me. Like so many other things, I didn’t know why back then. They were simply seeds planted somewhere in my brain that were yet to germinate.

When I was growing up, I remember raking leaves was a chore. As an adult both of our houses involved raking leaves in the fall. Our last house had so many trees that it seemed to take forever to rake them up. If we left them on the ground too long, we would get one of those friendly reminders from the HOA to “clean up” the yard. Because of that, fall wasn’t an exciting time. In 2006 we moved to the farm where we live today. It’s still a somewhat suburban setting but it has none of the restrictions of an HOA. It is 3 acres with a lot of tall hardwood and evergreen trees. However, there is one tree that stands out from the others. A majestic oak that has clearly not had to compete so much for sunlight for a long time. The kind of beautiful canopied tree that I always marveled at before I owned one.

The Oak Tree

The Oak Tree

The word “own” brings up an interesting question. Do I really own that tree? Or am I actually just visiting on its property? It is difficult to know the age of an oak tree like that one. A reasonable guess for this species can be made by multiplying its diameter in inches by 5. Our tree’s diameter is about 40 inches, which would make the estimated age as much as 200 years. To put that in perspective, the oak tree would have sprouted from a seed when James Madison, our 4th president, was in office. That number is awe-inspiring to me when I stop to think about it. It helps me to understand my place in its history.

Trees are one of nature’s most impressive living things. There are trees alive today that grew from seeds thousands of years ago. Trees are also an integral part of a permaculture system. They provide shade for humans and understory plants and habitat for animals and insects. They mine nutrients and water from deep below the surface. And they provide us with leaves. Yes the dreaded leaves that I used to rake up and put in bags for someone to take away. Today I get excited when fall arrives. Not only because the summer heat gives way to cooler weather, but also because the leaf drop is coming. Oak leaves make fantastic mulch for the garden and perennials like fruit trees. I rake some of them up and use them whole for sheet mulching. Others get chopped up with a mower and put in the compost or spread on the swale berm. I even find myself sneaking across the property line to pick up some leaves from the neighbor’s property when I need more. Of course he would say “take all you want” if I asked. In permaculture, not all abundance is something you eat. The biomass generated by that one oak tree is astounding.

It took my family a while to finally find the right home. We are grateful for everything the land provides us. It is also the home of a living creature so impressive that I enjoy and admire it every day. A creature that shares its bounty with me without reservation. I am honored that it allows me to stay here and make my home on its property for a short time. I hope the next few generations of visitors show it the same respect that I do.

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