A Reverence for Trees

A Reverence for Trees

Grandfather Mac was in the wholesale lumber business, he traveled the midwest selling lumber to lumberyards. He spent his life, earning his living, by the board foot. In his mid life they lived in a small mansion that they could not afford. My grandmother confided in me one day and told me that Grampa bought the grandiose home, not specifically for the architecture but because of the beautiful trees that that were on the grounds and in the yard, she was completely serious. Grama was also a bit annoyed when she told me this, because they had to rent out the carriage house to a group of nursing students to help make the house payments. She had wished she had taken a door knob as a souvenir from the home when they left it, the knobs were purportedly sterling silver. I only knew my grandparents living in very humble means.

In my grand fathers later years he came to ponder and realize how much timber he had marketed over his lifetime. He knew his life was coming to an end and he asked that people not buy flowers for his funeral. He spent his life on the prairie and was keenly aware of benefits of having a landscape with trees.

Instead of flowers he asked that if people wanted to make a gesture to his time spent on this earth, to plant a tree. He acknowledged that it was a simple gesture but it would be of benefit to others in years to come.

Green Ash-Arborvitae-Balsam Fir

Over the years I have taken his request to heart and have purposefully involved myself with planting trees, growing trees,appreciating trees and understanding their many benefits. I was influenced by an author and illustrator Eric Sloane called A Reverence for Wood. The book is about colonial times and their uses of wood for tools and building materials. Each species of tree was found to have very specific purposes. Today we know that hickory makes fine hammer handles. It handles the percussive shock of impacts better than many other types of wood. We know that willow is easily bent, Basswood is clean and clear, Oak is strong and is the framework of humanity, Spruce and maple are good for musical instruments, White pine, Spruce, Cedar, Tulip Poplar, mahogany and black walnut all conjure images for their specific uses.

Today, all the talk is of the recent ice storm. Nature has pruned trees in our community. Perhaps 90 % of all the trees have sustained some damage. The hardest hit species seems to be the Hackberry trees, because of their susceptibility to crotch rot and the soft maple trees fail when burdened with any weight. The Arborvitae have been similarly hit hard because of their propensity to hold the weight of the ice load, as flexible as they are, many have significant damage. The Paper Birch trees in town are decorative. They branch off the trunk at 20 to 25 degree angles which is a very poor angle for strength. They have suffered mightily. The ash is perhaps the most popular tree in Wgtn. (not to be confused with Poplar!) It too has taken a heavy toll. The Ash trees in Wgtn. were in the midst of budding out and that may well have caused them to also hold more ice and hence…more weight load. Ash trees seldom bend, they are less flexible and though they have considerable strength, when that limit is exceeded, they also crack and fail.

Bur Oak- Quercus Macrocarpa @ 28 years

I’ve taken a cursory survey of our yard and some additional land that we own. I’ve found that we have 62 trees and 54 assorted shrubs. My mature deciduous trees all have serious damage from broken limbs. Recently pruned fruit trees show no damage, the confers have minor damage in which they will easily recover. The shrubs should also bear the abuse.

Twenty nine years ago I planted an acorn. This acorn came from a burr oak tree. We have had the good fortune to watch it grow into a beautiful tree that is a focal point in our backyard. It is approx. 20 inches in diameter and is about 30 ft tall and with an umbrella that is perhaps 26 to 30 feet in diameter.


The shade that it provides in the summer time is invaluable. Oak trees have branches and leaves that provide a diffuse shade, not dense shade. They tend to branch out at stronger angles (55 to 90 degrees). In the dead heat of the summer the shade of an oak tree is inviting. Temperatures underneath it always seems tolerable. There is never an unpleasant time to be had under an oak tree.

The bur oak tree is native to the prairie. The oak tree is not messy, lets dispel that notion. As long as you have a robust squirrel population we have found that we have never had to pick up an acorn. The acorn is a food source and the shells are completely chewed up. The base of our oak tree is as clean as any other place in our yard, do not confuse acorns with walnuts.

Today there is not a tree left undamaged in our yard….excepting the burr oak tree. It is very heavy laden with a layer of ice and snow. The snow beneath it is perfectly void of any branches or twigs, every square meter throughout the city is littered with twigs and branches. Not below the mighty oaks.

We have planted oak trees at other properties and have found that in all instances that there was little to no damage on these trees. The oak tree is also slow to bud out and this is an advantage when winter storms decide to reappear.

Oak trees create high quality shade which in return may well enhance real estate values

Oak trees create valuable wood, even as a non commercially grown tree.

I suggest that Oak trees do grow at a relatively fast pace contrary to commonly held beliefs. This notion gets distorted because people confuse “old trees” with “slow growing”. Oak trees are “long lived” trees and people equate living long…with slow growing. Our oak tree of 28 years from an acorn is quite acceptable, it has been casting functional shade for the past 15 years.

European Oak-Cheltham-Cotwolds-Great Britain

Our community will spend weeks if not months cleaning and trimming our existing trees. When this task is complete we will surely consider a replanting program. We have arrived at a time that is almost unprecedented and we have an opportunity. Will we plant the trees that are quick, cheap and fast growing? Or we should consider creating a legacy. Perhaps we should consider intentionally planting something that is bigger than ourselves, planting something that we can share with our grand children and ensuing generations.

Oak trees are more expensive for the city to plant. In a time of fiscal constraints, it seems dubious to ask the city to bear the expense of people thinking about a future generation and their quality of life.

Perhaps we could involve the local citizenry and encourage people to plant an oak tree as a memorial for a friend, child or a grandparent?

If there were spots within our city parks and walk ways that could use a new tree, would you consider a memorial for your friend or loved one? What if there were locations in our town that would benefit from a stately oak tree?

Who planted these trees and why were they planted? Your grandchildren might ask this question.

Do we have the capacity to see beyond our own immediate needs and could we put together a program of planting higher quality trees?

Could we recognize that this might be a time for us as a community to consider creating an arboreal legacy?

Oak trees might initially be a bit more expensive but the pay off is generational.

Bill Keitel

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