Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 17

April 25 - May 1, 2002

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A Tale of Two Oak Trees
by April Falcon Doss

For six generations, my husband’s family has lived on the same narrow peninsula nestled between Glen Burnie and Pasadena. For at least that long, the oak tree next door has grown. Family roots run deep here, and so do the roots of the white oak that now towers 100 feet high in my neighbor’s yard. Sadly, that oak is one of few tall trees in a community that has become more barren with each passing year.

Two aerial photos of our neighborhood hang on the family room wall. One, in black and white, dates from the 1930s, when rich farmlands lined the banks of Stoney Creek. Strips of forest separate the patchwork of fields, and a tree-lined street leads to the end of the peninsula.

The second photo freezes a Kodachrome moment some 30 years ago, when the neighborhood roads were obscured by the stately procession of poplar trees that gave the community its name. A wooded gulch bisects the community park. Gracious shade abounds.

An aerial photo would look very different today. As I walk through the neighborhood, I squint against a sun that glares down from every direction, it seems. My children fret as I push them along. Even the stroller’s canopy cannot spare their eyes from the hardened, stark landscape around us.

I pass bare, naked lots whose newly built houses stand where once trees soared. I round the corner where woods used to be, and soon I reach the neighborhood’s main road, once lined with a cathedral’s arch of green. Yard after yard, the tree stumps squat, three or more feet in diameter. They are all that remains of the cathedral’s pillars of green. A few roadside trees still stand, savaged by the chainsaws of BG&E contractor crews who have butchered the trunks and branches into grotesque, oversized bonsai.

How bad is it, this loss of a few trees?

As the stately trees have grown old, no one has bothered replacing them, it seems. Scrubby silver maples, determined and hardy, are cut down when ants appear. A magnificent willow falls in a storm. Mature trees are bulldozed in the name of infill building. Tree after tree falls. The poplars and maples and oaks give way to dainty ornamental trees that stand, staked and naked, alongside flower beds and sharp-edged shrubs. The view from our windows becomes starker each day, and our neighborhood park bakes in the sun.

My neighbor tells me she plans to fell that breathtaking 100-year-old oak for fear a branch might fall during a storm. With central air conditioning, it seems, we no longer need the shade.
Except to give rest to our spirits and our souls, that is. It’s a rest that is in short supply.

Plant a tree! I long to shout to my neighbors. Yet perhaps it’s not so easy. Planting trees requires faith in the future; it transforms hope into something concrete.

Four years ago and eight months pregnant, I walked through Mount Vernon’s flower mart lugging a sapling that had been nurtured from an acorn cast off by Maryland’s great Wye Oak. In great optimism, we planted it precisely where one day, mature, it might cast shade across our entire back yard. As white oaks do, it is growing ever-so-slowly. It reaches a mere eight feet in height, but its trunk stands firm and stout.

The odds are small that my husband and I will remain in this house for the rest of our lives. The chances are even slimmer that in six more generations our family will be here still. We may never see our Wye offspring bear shade.

But, with luck, whoever lives in our house will treasure this sapling as we have. With luck, it may grow to its full stature by the time my neighbor’s ancient oak tree comes down. It may not be our children who picnic beneath this tree, but perhaps someone else’s children will.

William James once wrote, “The great use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” Whether I’m hoping for immortality or just shade, our yard holds 27 newly planted trees: one oak, two maples, three pears, and 24 cypresses that create more privacy than shade.

So rest our spirits; replenish our shade; refresh our air; restore our souls. This Arbor Day, go plant a tree.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly