Oak Tree Trilogy Part 2 – Defiant Oak

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Defiant Oak’s happy autumn leaves, October 2013.

Oaks against the sky,
Ramparts of leaves high-hurled,
Staunch to stand and defy
All the winds of the world;
Stalwart and proud and free,
Firing the man in me
To try and again to try –
Oaks against the sky.

– Excerpt from Trees Against The Sky,
Poem by Robert William Service

It’s not a good idea to fall in love with a guy whose favorite book is the dictionary.  This thought occurred to me today when I perused my 1995 10th Edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which I would prefer over using the Internet to look up words, but my eyes can’t take it.

I felt something like comedic irony when I saw her inscription to me in this dictionary, my Good Book, a gift on the third anniversary of our first date.

That relationship brought me to the brink of swearing off women forever.  After dalliances since then, I’m now so selective, it’s as good as having sworn off them.  I won’t deny the possibility of someone coming along to inspire a romance that makes people dismissive of Tristan and Isolde, or that inspires me to write an eternally classic novel about civil war, bells tolling, and earth-moving sex.  (Hemingway, you delightful madman.)  Still, she won’t lure me away from Balsamea, or get me to abandon my little Defiant Oak tree.

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Oak Tree Trilogy Part 1 – Sentinel Oak

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Sentinel Oak with The Balsamean’s head in the lower branches to be removed soon. Remove the branches, not the head.

In 2005, the birth year of Balsamea, my father asked if there were any oak trees on the property.  I had not seen them.  Over time, I learned that there were many red oaks.  They are one of our minority trees, but the mature ones number about one per acre, and there are dozens of seedlings and saplings.  We would have many more oaks, were it not for the deer munching on their buds every winter.  I have seen them kill a 3-foot healthy oak in two seasons.

On that day in May 2005 when I closed on the property purchase, I immediately installed a cable gate across the entrance.  Dumpers had abused the property, a practice that ended that day, and became a considerable process of remediation for me.  Still I find things resurfacing from below ground.

While opening space for access to the right trees to attach the cable, I noticed two little red oaks about two feet tall each.  One was in excellent condition.  The other was crushed under a fallen gray birch.  I left the latter alone to grow in its own way, and it has done well.  The former, I nursed and lightly pruned over the years, to encourage a nice geometric shape.

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The Junk Tree (Fagus grandifolia)

Six years ago a first-time visitor to Balsamea — call him Schmoe — looked at a young beech tree in the yard (then just a campsite) and asked, “What’s that doing there?”

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This is the tree Schmoe asked about. At the time it was about half this size.

His tone seemed to imply that there was something wrong with it being there — or something wrong with me for having it there.

I told him it was a beech tree that I saved when I cleared all the other original trees from that little part of the forest. (This was during my Thoreauvian Experiment, living off-grid in a 100 square foot camper for two years, with a dog, before Balsamea grew a house in 2010. I had cleared only a small space in the woods, less than a tenth of an acre.)

Other examples of American Beech:

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I kept that tree because it had a nice shape, as opposed to so many other trees growing scraggly in our dense, competitive woods. When allowed to grow in the open, beeches have a beautiful shape and make terrific shade trees and climbing trees, and they produce spectacular autumn colors that last long after all the maples go bare.

When clearing space, I kept a lot of trees that were in bad shape, too. I nursed them along and they are wonderful now. In truth they were always wonderful. I just imposed my aesthetic notions on them, with the help of lopping shears.

Before I got to tell Schmoe why I kept that beech tree, or why I liked it, he added, “It’s a junk tree. They get that bark rust.”

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The “bark rust” starts with an insect infestation which causes a fungal infection. Other than this bark condition, everything about this big old beach (one of our tallest) seems normal, and has been this way for at least 9 years that I know of.

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