Nature Meditation #7 – Rick Bass, “A Tree’s Life”

“I like all that goes on in the hundred years of a tree’s life, or the two hundred or five hundred years of its span — all the ice and snow, the windstorms, the fires that creep around the edges of some forests and sweep through anhd across others, starting the process all over, and leaving behind a holy kind of pause, a momentary break in power, before things begin to stretch and grow again, as vigorously as ever.” Rick Bass, from “Fiber” in Off the Beaten Path – Stories of Place, 1998.

I am intrigued by trees. All that they know, all that they’ve seen. This passage reminds me of the second film, “The Two Towers,” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, where two of the hobbits meet the Ents, the living tree beings that inhabit a Middle Earth forest. They are witnesses to all that has happened in their world for centuries. Not only the weather, but the human lives, tragedies and comedies, that have taken place below and around their sheltering branches.

I’m blessed to live on an acre of crosstimber forest.  I’m eternally grateful to the builder of this southwest Tulsa addition who thoughtfully left the trees when they createed these lots and built these houses thirty years ago. Our lot is populated by post oak, blackjack, black oak, green ash, hickory, winged elm, mulberry, dogwood and other native Oklahoma forest species. Who knows how long these trees have been here? It is a rocky, hilly, dry area. Trees don’t grow very quickly in these climates. Most of our trees are eight to twelve inches in diameter.

It is the big old post oaks that are most telling, and most like Tolkien’s Ents. Old bark twists around their trunks, as if the tree has been wrung out like a dishrag. Long limbs bend at odd angles and reach for twenty or more feet. Knobs burst from the bark like giant warts, reminders of limbs long lost. Dendrologists (scientists who specialize in trees) have studied tree rings from these trees throughout the Oklahoma/Arkansas cross timbers and determined that some of these trees may be three hundred years old, or older.

I think of what they’ve seen here on my lot, on this rocky hillside. They were here when the great bison herds roamed most of the US. Estimates are that 40-60 MILLION of these animals ranged the plains and into the forests of almost every state.

Native Americans no doubt travelled thorugh this area, possible even those of the Mound Builder culture renowned throughout the southeastern United States. These people built the incredible Spiro Mounds site around 1100. This Oklahoma State historic site is located two hours southwest of here, on the Arkansas border.

Just a few miles north of here Washington Irving crossed the Arkansas River during his trek through the Prairies in 1832. Did his scouts ride up my hilly front woods before they headed west along the Cimarron?

Certainly, the founding of Tulsey Town, as Tulsa was once called, and the relocation of the Cherokees and Creek Nations to Indian Territory, places these peoples within the vicinity of my home as they lived and traveled all over this area.

Are there old trees in your yard? Your neighborhood? Visit local parks and historic neighborhoods in your town. Chances are you have an old giant living there. Settlers in most parts of the country helped make their new homes more like the places where they had previously lived by planting trees. Some towns were virtually treeless before settlers came.

Imagine what these trees have seen of human history. What tales they could tell!

If you are searching for a site where you can see some of this state’s oldest trees, check out the Keystone Ancient Forest, just north of Sand Springs, OK. In this post oak/black jack forest you can also see ancient eastern red cedars, some have been dated by scientists to five hundred years old! These trees cling to rocky slopes, saving themselves from the prairie fires that used to blaze up frequently prior to the creation of cities in the 20th Century. Their tiny blue berries feed the birds, as well as other small animals.

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