Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quercus Virginiana

Light has returned, shadows are cast just a bit shorter. I took a morning walk on main street, eerily quiet. I am sure the beltway and strip-malls were bustling. I round the corner, and Franklin Park lies, still and quiet, before me. Historic homes surround the park, standing as sentries, keeping watch. My first few years were spent in a small house that lies a stone’s throw to the east of where I spent the subsequent 15 years. I return to 317, the house architect Arthur Moratz built for himself and his wife, to my family’s home.  Delilah, the hound of the house, continually brushes the curtains aside with her muzzle. The swollen squirrels, port their paunchy potbellies across the lawn, seemingly knowing that they taunt her to no end. Maples and oaks stand shivering in their birthday suits, the park across the street currently the barren iteration of my childhood memory box.

Mind - an oak
Lobed and branching like a globe;
Heart - a maple
Fiery, winged, a sweet sap flowing through its veins.

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold recounts the history of his farm in Sauk County, Wisconsin in reverse, by the rings he will saw through in the oak that has been struck by lightning, that they will fell, that will heat his cabin. His oak is an anomaly, it should have been ringed by a rabbit or burnt in a prairie fire. But human hand didn’t plant it, nor fell it. Its birth and death were chance.

“When” has been forgotten. Tommy, as we call it, sprouted, grew, and has outlived two four-legged family members, and, given proper care, will outlive me, my children, and theirs. Quercus Virginiana is native to the Gulf Coast and Deep South, where three generations of my family have grown roots in sandy loam, cold-hardy to Zone 6, just like the trees. Tommy will be planted out near to wear it fell as an acorn in Thomasville, Georgia this coming year. It has been adorned with lights and spent more than a decade with us, as our evergreen, putting the live in live oak. The Big Oak, its progenitor, witnessed the horrors of slavery, missed the ax, and now is revered for its age.

The Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga Menziesii, is the state tree of Oregon. Its immature kin are a popular accoutrement of the Christmas holiday, farmed and felled for a brief stint as a centerpiece. Give them 60 years, and they tower. Soon, I’ll return to them, standing firmly rooted where they were chosen to. I’m a transplant to Oregon, growing vigorously, hopefully enriching the environment. Can I tower, too, in that time? Only if I put down roots, my own and others.

Tommy is our evergreen, and we’re proud for its perennial presence. Is it at home here or there? Do we keep it or does it keep us? If planted out, it will stop needing our presence, but that’s not the worry. We need it far more than it needs us. Selfishly, I think it should migrate west, like the my sisters and I. Nurtured to young adulthood in the Prairie State, then potted up in the Willamette Valley.

- Luke Maurer
(Master's of Leadership for Sustainability Education Candidate at Portland State University)