A couple days ago, I was walking out back of the Chinese Emporium on the south edge of town, while my wife walked inside. I think I’ve explained before that while she enjoys window-shopping, many times, she just goes for the exercise. The trouble she has with her feet makes it easier if she has a cart to lean on. I chose to get my exercise outside, weather permitting, while she patrols the aisles inside.
At the end of the country lane where I walked that day, were a couple small trees about 30 feet tall. From a distance, I thought they were a white oak and a hickory. Being a warmer day than I had originally thought, I decided to stand a few minutes in their shade to cool off. Getting closer, I was a bit intrigued to see that the first was, indeed, in the white oak family, but the second was in the red oak family, rather than being a hickory. The red oak leaves weren’t immediately recognizable to me, in part due to a lot of insect damage, but mainly due to the fact that the leaves were much wider, and the lobes much shorter than I was accustomed to seeing on a red oak. Despite having a more scaly bark than I was used to seeing on a red oak, I finally decided that it was a Northern Red Oak that just happened to have a strangely-shaped leaf. The tree appeared old and stunted, completely unlike the forest giants of that species that I have cut on occasions past.
Turning my attention to the white oak, I was trying to remember where I’d last seen that particular type of leaf. Then I remembered the large Swamp White Oak that stood on the brink of the ridge above my grandparent’s house in the valley below. It was 200 yards and 150 vertical feet from any swamp, but it was a fine specimen of its species. Both of the trees I was looking at should have been perfectly at home where they were, the land was low and averaged a bit moist, but they were on the edge of a drain for the area, and the pasture nearby seemed rich enough, soil-wise.
I really couldn’t see any reason for their stunted appearance, but their condition was obvious with their rougher than average bark, short stature and dead limbs interspersed with live ones. The Swamp White Oak showed a bit of weathered wood on one side of the trunk; maybe lightning had added to its troubles at some point. It also had a fair amount of epicormic sprouting, usually caused either from being suddenly exposed to more sunlight than which it was accustomed, or as an effort to add leaves to help it survive stress. I don’t believe the problem was the former.
After living much of my life in the woods, I’ve learned that trees (and maybe ALL things) have some traits in common with man. Some grow upright, and some are twisted. Some grow tall, and some stay relatively short. Some grow to have wide trunks, while others stay thin. Some live to be very old, but some die young. And some flourish under terribly bad growing conditions while others fail under even with the very best of habitats.
Both trees should have flourished in their location, but neither did. Some people are the same way, and there’s no understanding them either. © 2013-