The Mighty Oak
William Bryant Logan is an arborist and writer of "Oak: The Frame of Civilization" - a book about the 12,000-year relationship between people and oak trees. "No tree," he writes, "has been more useful to human beings than the oak."
The oak is not a tree in a hurry. Plant an oak and you won't be doing yourself any favors. Instead, you're putting down roots for your grandchildren's grandchildren. It isn't unusual for an oak to live 300 years. I remember a massively sheltering oak in the lower 40 of the Santa Ana Botanical Gardens in Claremont. I would take classes there and we'd rest underneath it. We'd dig down through several layers of mulch before hitting dirt. I probably had seen the local Cahilla Indians camping there.
Oaks are enfolding and enduring. They seem to hold our landscape in their embrace. Oaks link generations together. They are large and long-lived, but not out of human scale. If you want to plant them, learn about the variety of oaks and about the character of your own home place. Oaks are so adaptable that there is likely to be one for almost every kind of landscape. Some oaks like it wet; others like it dry. Some grow to 100 feet; other to only 30 or 40 feet. Some grow tall and some spread wide. (the one in Claremont was both tall and wide) Almost all like slightly acid soils, so it is important not to put them in alkaline situations.
Oaks may be enduring but they are not immortal. They do need care. In many cases, however, you must know when to leave an oak tree alone. To keep an oak, give it room. Don't compact the soils. Don't cut the roots. Don't over prune or top them. If you can, give them native surroundings, replacing lawn grasses with an under-story garden of native grasses and shrubs. We had about 4 city oak trees on our property in Claremont. I believe they were the "Holly Oak" variety. They were slow growing with leaves that looked like holly leaves; very prickly. They were prolific at producing acorns every year. Of course, with four boys, there were alot of acorn fights and acorn art with the little caps.
Now, I get apples at "Oak Glen" and sell houses just off of Oak Valley Parkway, Beaumont's new east/west corridor north of the I-10. I also sold homes at the Estates at Oak Valley Greens, a golf course nearby. I guess oak will always be around somewhere in my life. It is comforting and inspiring at the same time. I remember I had the dubious task of making the funeral arrangements for my dad. I chose a more expensive, oaken casket, just because it was "so like him", ie. good, solid, reliable, enduring, endearing, kind and protective. "Great Oaks from little acorns grow."
The Bizzaro comic strip in the upper right hand corner reminds me of a short story I once read about someone waiting for the last leaf of fall to finally fall before they could get on with or without their life. I think that is an oak tree and an oak leaf...always a living lesson. Bob