Stock photo of the Charter Oak

The White Oak

Hello dear readers, thanks for taking the time to relax to a story of a particularly great tree. Today we’ll be hearing from a white oak, the official tree of Connecticut. Before he shares his family’s story, I just wanted to thank you for caring enough about the trees to come here.

If you’ve been following American news, you’ve likely heard of the destruction of Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park. The US government has been partially shut down for weeks now as Trump demands funding for the border wall and the Dems continue to resist for economic and humanitarian reasons.

Because 800,000 people are out of work due to the shutdown, the parks are open free (yay for free access to these preserved lands) but also un- or understaffed and thus open to destruction (boo for people abusing them). Trees that take scores of years to mature and centuries to develop, trees that were historic and protected by the nation itself, have been cut, and for what?

So thank you for taking the time to honor trees here.

Today I stumbled across this ad for a BBC show on actress Judi Dench, who apparently has a passion for trees as well. It’s beautiful, her acres of cultivated and forested land and her love and interest in the trees’ stories. In the preview, she mentions an oak in particular.

Oaks are some of my favorite trees because of their sturdiness and because I grew up around so many; you can’t find them in every part of the US! The white oak we’ll hear from today is an especially dignified fellow with a legacy that he stakes his pride in. He also has an appreciation for the diversity of forest around him.

I hope his words will encourage you today! Enjoy!

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

 

Greetings, young one. I heard you call me stubborn as you walked by earlier, noticing my brown leaves still sticking although it is March.

While I prefer to be called regal as a descendant of the historic white oak that saved this state when it was still a colony, I will let it slide this time. It was our persistence, devotion to the cause, and willingness to sacrifice that made my family line historic, after all, and I suppose stubborn is simply a more callous way of phrasing those attributes.

If you are not too absorbed in your daily activities, please sit down for a bit. Do you enjoy history? We white oaks, or quercus albas as some might say, are proud of our legacy. Take some tea while I share.

Back in the 1600s, we had tension between a lot of groups, but my family was associated with the English Americans, and the actual English folk had some issues with them being here. The settlers, or colonists really, had managed to be granted a charter. They were happy, like you. Yes, I see your smile, the interest in your eyes. But they were not in the clear.

A new king rose to power in the east – technically England, but didn’t I sound like Tolkien for a moment? And England is east of here. Well, moving on.

King James II did not want us to have the power granted in the charter. There was a meeting between the two groups in Connecticut, and during it, the governing document went missing. You can read about it on the state’s website. That night, one of my ancestors had the honor of keeping the great charter. That grandmother, known as the Charter Oak, lived over 200 years but passed away before my birth.

I myself have been rooted in this North Haven soil for over a century. These stories were passed on to me from my ancestors. But I have seen my own good share of American history.

For example, after the travesty of slavery ended, I lived through an eerily similar Jim Crow era. I was here on this Northern ground for all of it and have observed what I can from this limited standpoint on Sackett Point Road.

The real demographic change in this area occurred during my younger years – the influx of Italian immigrants to this region, yes. I’m glad you know a bit about that social change for our state! It was a blessing to be sure. I witnessed that history being built before my eyes.

My beech and red oak neighbors, the evergreens yonder, they have been good friends to me throughout the years. They cannot claim the same heritage as I, but I appreciate their company nonetheless. Their families have their own unique stories. Mine is embedded, written, preserved in Connecticut history, as we white oaks are the state tree, and I take great pride in that.

Yet I assume you can see by my speaking with you short, loose-limbed creatures that I am not so haughty to think we white oaks are the greatest of all. No, we simply played our part in making this nation a better place.

I do not see much of it with you loose-limbed little ones in this area, but we trees celebrate our diversity and integration here in the Northeast. What do you think of this, young one?

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees in harmony

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees together

 

Are you off already? Thanks for sharing tea and listening to this rough but royal old fellow. I appreciate your company. Perhaps you will still call me stubborn, but I will hold myself tall till my dying day because I know who I am and where I have come from. I pray your family may know the same lasting honor as mine. Go in peace.

 

The Three Tree

Second back from the front and about two yards to the left of the church house dwelled the Three Tree. A red oak of aimable personality, it had weathered many storms with a genuine grin and lived to see the joy of the children around it.

The church house, known as a parsonage to many, is what I called our split-level ranch, which the church on the property owned and in which it let us live as my dad pastored when we first moved to North Haven.

Our yard had a good handful of trees, each unique and well loved, and was backed by a small forest. The Three Tree, however, sat much closer to the front, far from the occasional nighttime noise of local crowds at a baseball field a couple blocks away.

One had to walk across the parking lot and into the yard to see the Three Tree, but once discovered, it was memorable due to its three trunks that diverged just a couple feet up from the ground. Ancient and strong, the oak would have been a good climbing tree if it had any lower lying branches, which it did not.

The Three Tree witnessed many adventures from us church kids and was in the general vicinity of the Goliath beetle we once found during a picnic.

Along with the White Oak, the Three Tree bordered the small field on its right; the ramp lined the field’s front while the church’s side garden and basement door sealed the left, the sidewalk from that door heading back towards the house and the Three Tree in completion of the rectangular plot of grass.

In this field, my best friend Annabelle and I played Frank and Joe from the Hardy Boys and foraged for nuts when pretending to be Natives, whose cultures and lifestyles I now recognize we knew nothing about.

(Our state’s name itself, Connecticut, is a mispronunciation of the Algonquian word regarding the river that runs through it, and many places in the state and region hearken back to European colonization and the brash overtaking and erasure of Native cultures there.)

Familiar with its history and its present, the Three Tree looked upon us in kind amusement, a silent but wise presence, friendly as we passed by and game for our attempts at climbing.

We were childish, and it was happy. The Three Tree was childish itself, though not spry like us anymore. Age had made it firm but had not worn down its spirit.

Its three arms opened to the blue sky filled with cumulus puffballs, ready to receive either a child or a thunderstorm and ready to protect its area with its hearty leaves that stayed green through the winter and turned brown and fell frustratingly atop fresh ground each spring.

The church property was neglected once we moved out of state, and the Three Tree’s life cut short with some of its companions years before that, but the memory of this unique red oak, which was at once playful and firm, lives on.


Note:

I am still working on images for this series. Please bear with me and engage your imagination until (and even after) I draw replicas of the dear trees I am describing. I will add them to their respective posts when ready. Thank you.