I’m a Minnesota native, but I lived for a while in Seattle. One of the reasons I wanted to move back here was to be near oak trees again. True fact, just ask my husband.
I missed the humble oak in the land of the towering Douglas fir. Midwestern girl, I guess. My favorites are the bur oaks, the gnarly ones with the crooked branches — the grumpy old men of oak trees.
I would like to honor my favorite tree by ‘following’ one branch as it passes through four seasons. The knoll area on the University of Minnesota campus has beautiful trees, but the bur oak in front of Eddy Hall at the corner of Pillsbury Drive and Pleasant Street has a branch low enough to photograph up close. I chose that one.
The hazards of this pursuit: What if the university’s groundskeepers lop it off in their zeal to keep the university’s 10,000 trees in tip-top shape? Or what if this particular branch fails to leaf out? All of a sudden I have a boring tale, or I am forced to cheat and pick a new branch — not very satisfying.
Oh, well, best to plunge ahead.
Lisa’s Bur Oak Branch, late February, 2011
My first thought was, It already has buds! Must be close to spring! But my daughter set me straight. Buds form at the end of the summer, she said, and most of us don’t notice. “Your oak tree buds look pretty dormant to me.” What I’m apparently seeing on these twigs are the scales that protect the bud from the elements.
“They look nice and tight to me,” she said, “like a coat of armor.”
Before the tree went into dormancy, it packed its cells with extra sugar to lower the temperature at which they would freeze. And now the sap is just staying put. Given the way oaks are built, they’re a little more sensitive to water columns breaking, so they wait a little longer to crank up in the spring. I’ll say. I wait and wait for oaks to leaf out.
Here’s the larger branch with Eddy Hall behind it.
Tom Ritzer, a landscape architect at the university, said the tree could be over two hundred years old, which probably means that a squirrel, not a person, planted it. When a bur oak nearby was removed by the university’s groundskeepers, someone counted the rings and determined that the tree started growing around 1783. Not in the same league as bristle cone pines, but still an accomplishment.
Eddy Hall is 125 years old. Old, but not nearly as old as the tree.
Here’s the whole tree. My branch is near the light post on the lower right of the photo.