Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Broken Giant: End of a Marker Oak

A "Marker Tree" is one left behind after cutting to mark the corner of a property. The family farm has several of these but none stands out more than the marker oak that indicates where the mill property and the farm property turn a corner at the top of the hill about the farm. In 1996 I wrote an essay about that oak which was later published in Phase magazine.
I am providing it in full below to give you some understanding of what this tree has meant to our family and the farm over the years.

Scott and Rayne Loder by the base of the marker oak in 2009

The Marker Oak [copyright, Michael Wescott Loder 1996]

by M. W. Loder

“Are we going by the Big Tree?” My younger sister or I would ask.
Yes, we would still have time to walk that far. There was always time to stop in those childhood days. Patty and I would run out ahead of our parents and older brother, racing each other through the open woods and up the path toward the one really big tree in the entire forest. Who would win the race? It varied, but “deadheat” was the usual winner I remember.
The Big Tree was special. In those days, a half a century ago, it loomed forty or more feet above all the other trees in our thirty acres of woods. Riding in our car on Route 222, I could easily pick it out against the skyline over a mile away. “There’s the tree,” I would point out, and the rest would look and agree. Yes, that was the Big Tree.
It marked a corner of our property. To the east was ours, to the west and south the land belonged to the neighboring farmer. Two hundred twenty years earlier all of this land had belonged to Peter Klein and his wife, good Pennsylvania Germans who owned the grist mill in the valley and 400 acres of land—most of it granted by the Pennsylvania legislature in gratitute to Peter for his participation on the winning side in the American Revolution. How did Peter’s wife get on the deed? I don’t know, but her name is there along with her “mark”—for she could not write her own name even if her husband could.
Except the Big Tree did not really mark the corner. Huh? Well, my father ran a transit on the line and discovered that the actual property corner was ten feet farther east—on a stump. In 1905 the then-owners logged these woods and took the true “marker oak.” Did they do that by mistake, or was the Big Tree already so much more impressive than any others that they decided to leave it and take the tree on the corner?
Today, it no longer stands out. A hundred years of regeneration have allowed new trees to reach greater heights than the Big Tree. If I search for it from within the forest, I seldom can pick it out until I am within a hundred feet—a case of not being able to see the tree for the forest. Yet … yet when I stand next to it, “awe” is still the first word that comes to mind. How can someone not see this ancient giant?
It is a black oak, Quercus velutina. It looms seventy feet above the ground, its girth so great that two adults can hug it and yet their hands will not meet. “50 inch diameter,” the state forester tells me as he runs his tape around it. He does some quick calculations and nods. “Probably three hundred years old.” We walk farther out into the adjacent cornfield in order to take all of it in. “It’s fully mature: branches are dying back. It probably won’t get any taller.”
“Bigger around though?”
“Yeah, it will do that.”
“How much longer will it live?” I ask.
“Ach, probably only another fifty years.”
“Fifty years? It’s gonna’ outlive me.”
He laughs. “You think so?”
“I know so,” I answer.
Three hundred years old? What did this world look like then? Had any white man yet set foot on this hill and looked out across the Great Valley? Pennsylvania was so new a colony that the first settlers were still breaking ground in what is now downtown Philadelphia. I scan the centuries, trying to comprehend the times of this tree. I have lived fifty-six years, traveled a third of the way around the world, lived in dozens of homes, and yet I cannot measure the experience of a tree like this—a living thing that stays alive by enduring, by outlasting. A limb breaks—it grows over the wound. A drought comes—it sheds leaves and waits. A hurricane blasts its branches—it bends and lets the little stuff break away. Moths eat its leaves—it grows new, more-toxic ones. Like love, it endures all things. Endurance, and a little luck, are what make its life. Time, in the end, means nothing.

-end of essay-

The hurricane that came through here in July brought all this to an end. The largest trunk broke and fell, taking another big branch with it. Only the minor branch of the trunk remains. Water now enters the trunk freely. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the tree will go. We will have to bring in the saws soon to save the fallen wood for heating and to clear the field.

Flag's up at the lodge

Some days it is just nice to fly the Loder flag. It follows the medieval pattern of color over metal (black over yellow [gold]) and displays only the crest in the center instead of a full coat-of-arms. In this case, it is the white dragon of the Lowthers and Loders. But this flag has two sides. The other side is blue over yellow with a stag's head caboosed with a silver arrow running through it following the colors and crest of the Wakehurst Loders.