- The old giant Oak Tree was a friend to me and my family, and so many others.
- For about 200 years, the old Oak Tree was here for the Osage Indians, the early settlers, the farmers, and us.
- With thousands of sunrise and sunset moments, this tree shared the character of our land.
By Larry Whiteley
For over 50 years, an old oak tree stood near the corner of our house. It was no ordinary tree. Two oak trees had grown together at the trunk many years ago. It was massive in circumference and stood over 80 feet tall. The shade over our house and the oxygen it produced were invaluable to us. The fall colors of that tree added beauty to our yard.
Six other oaks are in the backyard. Two other oak trees are in front of the house. All are big, all are old, but none as old or as big as the old oak tree. The giant stood out among the other oaks, the maple trees, the redbuds, the buckeye, the dogwoods, and the spruce trees.
The giant old oak was always home to the birds. They built their nests, raised their babies, and sang their songs. The squirrels enjoyed the acorns it produced and also built nests in it. Gathering up all the leaves every fall was a chore. Picking up small limbs that fell in our yard and driveway was a pain. My wife and I both loved that old oak tree.
One year I made a birdhouse. I painted it white and then put a Wisconsin red “W” on it. It hung on the side of the tree where we could see it every time we drove up our driveway. It reminded us of our youngest son, his wife, and grandsons living in Wisconsin. When our grandkids that live near were little, they enjoyed a rope swing tied to one of its limbs. It also served as a backdrop for many pictures.
Several years ago, I noticed a hole at the bottom of the tree and fungi growing around the base of it. I called an arborist to come to check it out. He told me it wasn’t anything to worry about and the tree would live for many more years. He was wrong.
The hole kept getting bigger. Black ants moved in and started eating the wood. Fungi kept coming back around the base. I called another arborist. His concern, as was mine, was the possibility of the massive roots starting to rot underground. If that was happening and strong winds or an ice storm came along, the tree could end up crushing most of our house.
A neighbor up the road has a tree-trimming business. We hired him to do the job. I told him to cut it down and leave the wood I could cut and split for our wood-burning stove. Then haul the big logs away.
On the day they were to cut down our old friend, I was out early that morning taking pictures to remember it. I stood there for a long time just looking at it. I admit, there was a lump in my throat and maybe a little tear in the corner of my eye.
As they started, I couldn’t watch. I went to my workshop and tried to keep busy. I turned up the radio. I did not want to hear the saws. When the saws went silent, I stepped out and looked at where the tree used to be. They had already moved and stacked all the logs I would keep. I would now spend a lot of time cutting, splitting, and stacking. The old tree will now keep us warm for several winters.
I had asked for their final cut to be right above where the two oaks had grown together so long ago. The stump was almost six feet tall. I stood on a big rock to get high enough to count the tree rings. I wanted to know how old it was. When I finished counting, I did it again to make sure. It was over 200 years old.
I stood there and imagined a squirrel burying two acorns at this spot back in the early 1800s. Like most squirrels, he probably forgot where he buried them. Maybe the squirrel died before he found them from a Native American Indian arrow. The acorns eventually sprouted and pushed their way up through the soil. The two little trees grew closer together until they eventually became one.
Thinking about that, I went into the house and got on my computer. I started searching for what it was like in this part of America 200 years ago when the old giant old oak started its life. I wondered what that tree could have told me about what it had seen and heard.
It was here when the Osage Indians lived where our home now sits. It was still a young tree when the white settlers came to the land of the Osage. They built cabins and fences out of the trees and cut them down for firewood. It must not have been big enough to use, so they left it alone, and it continued to grow.
There were several dark marks on the tree rings. The neighbor said it was where barbed wire fencing was attached to the tree. Counting the rings from those marks to the outside told me there was probably a farm here sometime in the early 1920s. My wife and I have always thought there was a barn here at one time. I have found old rusted wire and nails around the property. The dirt is blacker in some places than in the rest of our land. That tells me there was a farm long ago.
When we bought the land over 50 years ago, we wanted our house close to the old oak tree. Back then, there were only a few other houses around. I hunted for deer and turkey in the woods behind us. I hunted rabbits in the fields with my sons. I searched for morel mushrooms in the woods. My boys and I caught fish in the pond up the road.
It was quieter then. Now we hear lawnmowers running, dogs barking, and kids playing. Today, no matter which direction we look, there are houses. The road out front can get busy at times. There is no more hunting or fishing around our place. Life here has changed again.
For over 200 years, the old oak tree was there for the Osage, the settlers, the farmers, and us. It was part of their life and part of ours. It was there as our kids and grandkids grew into adults. As my wife and I have grown old, it was always there. Just like the tree, someday we will be gone too.
I go out and visit the tree’s giant stump sometimes. The other day I was there when something caught my eye near the base of the stump in the fertile soil nourished by the decomposing leaves. There, fostered and protected by the decomposing leaves from the old oak tree, were two oak seedlings growing close together. I wondered what they would see in their lifetime. I wondered if they would grow together and become a big old oak tree.