The Off Season: ‘The oak tree loves endurance’ | Information Columns

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Days in the past, as a sometimes scorching and muggy July Saturday was coming to an finish, I instructed my spouse I needed to drive over to see the “tree in the midst of the street,” for it may not be there for much longer, perhaps.

The Off Season: ‘The oak tree loves patience’

Scott LivengoodThe Tree: The tree in the midst of the street, as proven in “The Fontanet Gazette” in 1977.

I do know a lot has been written and stated in regards to the destiny of the traditional and failing Bur Oak that splits Greencastle Highway in two just some miles north of Fontanet. 2 hundred years outdated — maybe nearer to 3 — the tree was there lengthy earlier than the street was, and it, only a path at first, is the oldest in Nevins Township, there as early as 1818. Possibly, the tree has been on that spot because the solar rose and fell on at the very least 75,000 days. As if she have been writing about it, the poet, Mary Oliver, says, “The oak tree loves endurance.”

The tree would possibly as effectively have been there eternally, for so long as males have walked on the excessive floor above the damp wealthy soil of Henry’s Prairie to the north, so long as groups of horses pulled wagons of grain and coal and timber from surrounding fields and mines and forests to markets, so long as the black tar of that slender and twisted two-lane street has ever been, it has stood witness to all the pieces that handed it in that quiet inexperienced spot in northern Vigo County.

In current weeks, and with laudable effort by the county to maintain one thing almost inexplicably vital alive, it appears to be like as if the tree will survive, at the very least some time longer. A trio of arborists has been consulted and have put it on the intensive care record as a most crucial affected person. As of the morning of this writing, the tree’s largest limbs, barely supported by a rotting and diseased trunk, might be trimmed again in hopes of stabilizing each them and the bees which might be housed deep inside. No life assist system, no miracle fertilizer, no transplant can do far more at this level. I’m an outdated tree hugger since my youth, and I’ve to confess a miracle is required.

“I didn’t actually understand till I wrote a bit of about it simply how revered that tree is,” former Indiana state consultant Clyde Kersey instructed me final week. Kersey, who grew up on Fontanet’s “south facet” and graduated from the city’s faculty with the Class of ‘56, wrote a column about space historical past for the domestically beloved “Fontanet Gazette,” the small city weekly that Invoice and Phyllis Herb began in 1977 and offered in the neighborhood for simply 15 cents a duplicate; in March 1977, Kersey’s “Historic Bits and Items” was in regards to the tree.

“At the moment,” Kersey wrote 45 years in the past, “proper in the midst of the Greencastle Highway, stands a powerful oak tree. It stands proud and tall, a tribute to an earlier age that admired issues of magnificence and fought to protect them.”

It appears as if just about anybody who lives close to or drives previous the oak has a narrative to inform, and Kersey was no exception: “I do not forget that I used to be operating for the county council as soon as, and I had a photograph, you understand, a placard, made up that had my picture on it. I figured it might be seen on the market, so I had the intention of placing one up on the tree. A person who lived by it noticed me, and he instructed me, ‘You may put it up there if you wish to, however I’ll tear it off after you permit.’ I didn’t put it up.”

Like me, Kersey discovered it laborious to find a lot verifiable in regards to the tree’s previous. One principle as to why it was by no means eliminated was that it was an unique surveyor’s reference level, and it’s true that early surveyors did cite memorably giant bushes within the early days of the territory. After all, simply as believable a proof was that the street — only a path initially — first wanted to be just one lane in width, and chopping a tree of that dimension was such a troublesome chore that because the street was widened, it was simpler to simply go away it the place it was.

Bur oaks, typically referred to as “mossycup” oaks, are notably long-lived. Tolerant to excessive temperatures, hardy no matter accessible moisture, they typically develop to 70 and 80 ft in top and have spreads reaching, and even, exceeding that. Huge trunks finally assist enormous branches that produce giant fringed acorns, a meals supply for absolutely anything residing — turkey, squirrels, deer — that walks beneath it; they develop very slowly and are prodigious producers of shade, another excuse, I’m positive, that the tree stayed put so lengthy. One supply tells me that work crews, farmers, and teamsters typically stopped beneath its cooling cover simply to relaxation some time.

The most important registered Bur Oak in Indiana is present in Posey County; it’s 99 ft tall and has a crown unfold of 128 ft. On the top of its glory, it isn’t laborious to think about the tree on Greencastle Highway was its rival. Invoice Herb, who would have graduated from Fontanet faculty had it not closed in 1961, and a lifetime resident of the city, remembers driving associates who had by no means seen it out to the tree. “You’d come round that curve and head west and make a few swerves, then go on the flawed facet of the tree as they have been screaming,” he stated.

Years in the past, I spoke with Joe Koch, the unofficial however extremely educated historian of all issues related to Nevins Township. Joe is gone now, however he left a e book behind that’s in regards to the historical past of the cities and faculties and church buildings and coal mines within the space; inevitably, and, together with about all the pieces else he loved discussing, we obtained round to the tree.

Joe instructed me that regardless of digging fairly deeply into the previous, he discovered little or no in regards to the oak, aside from a couple of tales about Colliers and Johnsons, two households who lived close by at varied occasions, defending the tree towards crews wielding crosscuts and chainsaws. We ought to be glad for his or her devotion. He additionally instructed me the best clarification for the tree nonetheless being the place it was: the street initially ran to the within of the tree, however within the outdated days earlier than asphalt, it might get too muddy to drive by means of on that decrease shady facet, so people merely created a north-side lane. Earlier than lengthy, folks used no matter facet they needed to.

After all, there have been plentiful social media posts in regards to the tree’s current decline; many are nostalgic remembrances of driving previous it on the best way to different locations. One stated that seeing the tree reminded her of driving residence from church along with her grandmother; one other learn, “It is part of my historical past.”

As dedicated to custom and sentimentality as we frequently are, it’s laborious to see that the outdated oak has nearly worn itself out, and we have to admire it for the marvel it has been. Some issues simply can’t get replaced, even in a lifetime.

You may contact Mike Lunsford at; his web site is at Mike’s books can be found at many Wabash Valley retailer, and at


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