We recently bought a 1940s home in a beautiful, old neighborhood in southern Oregon. We spent months searching for a house with a bit of land, but there was none to be had (afforded) that would meet the needs of our family. It felt like a sudden twist to put an offer on a “town home” and we’re still adjusting to the life of curtains on windows (we’ve always lived in the woods or country and didn’t worry about privacy) and traffic. We are also relishing quick trips to Home Depot (only 1.2 miles away!) and walks in the neighborhood that take us downtown or to hiking paths in the hills. I went from planning for two to four acres to just having .4 acres and I’m determined to squeeze all the life out of it I can with a permaculture orchard design.
Within days of arriving we arranged for an arborist to come look at the two old ugly oaks in the backyard. My first thought was to take them down to make room for more fruit trees; they are jagged and spindly and take a fair amount of coveted space. The arborist identified them as a white Oregon oak and a black California oak and explained that they are senior trees losing their canopy as their life cycle is coming to a close, but they are still healthy and do not endanger the house. Their root systems are also intertwined, so taking down one could damage the other. We could see where a large portion of the black oak’s roots were destroyed when previous owners installed a swimming pool, but it somehow survived. The white oak had major scarring from a disease that almost took it out years ago. They obviously had suffered some major setbacks in life, but here they were, quietly standing guard while holding the secrets of the generations of homeowners before us. They probably witnessed the construction of every single house and road in this neighborhood. As the tree specialist pointed out features I knew nothing about, respect and awe sprouted and quickly grew into admiration. I felt a flush of shame for my reflex to chop them down. By the time I walked him to the gate, I knew I would not be parting with these two amazing creatures.
With newfound humility, I began to research how to incorporate the massive oaks into our permaculture plan. Yes, it means less sun and space for newer trees, but there are quite a few plants that will appreciate the shade they provide in our hot summers. I’m enjoying the challenge of including them and in the process I’m learning of their value. There is great purpose for an old tree in a forest; scientists have found that the “mother” trees inoculate the seedlings with necessary fungi for their immune systems. They warn the other trees of danger (such as pest invasions and disease) and share nutrients and water with younger stressed trees through their root systems. They also store more carbon and protect the environment.
There is something sacred about going full circle, the end making sense of the drama in the middle. The last chapter of a book often sheds light on the whole story, along with growth of closure and the gift of satisfaction. I realized how often I want to cut things short and not allow the whole life cycle because it’s not “pretty” or what I expected. I just want to get on with the next thing and skip the painful parting or the boring ending; making no time or space to soak in the lessons or the blessings.
As I admire the two old oaks in my backyard, I think about the strong, wise trees in my life. I actually have several dearly loved friends in their seventies and eighties right now, most of them have been standing guard over me since my early adulthood. They have generously protected me with their shade and held me up with their roots. I reflexively call to them when I need wisdom or comfort. I dread the thought of them no longer being there. Their traumas and scars have modeled how to weather my own storms with faith in God and perseverance. Sadly, our culture often fails to value the beauty and strength of the generation before us, but I know I would not be where I am today without them. As I water, mulch and give space to these giants in my backyard I will be thanking God for the old oaks in my life and praying blessing over this important season in their lives. You know who you are. Thank you for sharing your lives and your shade with me. I love you so much.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.