Walk to Lathrop’s Old Oak Tree

-Barbara Walvoord

On the east campus, if you stand on the lawn at the end of Cranberry Lane and look across the field obliquely to the left, you will see a magnificent oak tree towering above all the other trees, resplendent in its rust-red leaves, which postpone falling until most other trees are bare.

You can walk to it, thanks to a mowed path arranged by Facilities Director Mike Strycharz. The path (level terrain, but rough underfoot) goes from the far end of the vegetable garden around the outside of the shrubby field. Just about opposite the garden, the path turns right, and you’ll come to the oak tree.

Our tree is a Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra), native to the eastern U.S. and Canada, known for its high-quality timber and its ability to survive hardships like pollution, drought, poor drainage, and compacted soils. The trunk is 15 feet around, so the tree is about 250 years old, according to online oak tree age calculators. A few oaks live to 500. When our oak tree was just a sprout, the nation was heading toward the Revolutionary War, and European settlers were replacing the native hunters and farmers. Our tree has seen enormous changes in land use.

Our tree has survived other hardships, too. There are strands of old barbed wire embedded in the trunk, so we can surmise that the tree once stood at the edge of a pasture, and someone was too lazy to put a fence post in.

oak 2014 040

There is a big hole in the trunk and a slash below it, where a huge branch fell off. The branch is still lying there on the ground. It’s not unusual for an old oak tree to be hollow in the middle and still thriving. The nutrients flow through the outer layers.

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Invasive vines are beginning to climb into our oak tree. Land Conservation Subcommittee members have been cutting them down.

When I see this tree, I think of Addison Cate, who died this past week. Addison was an early settler of Lathrop East, a knowledgeable forester who loved this land, walked it, helped formulate a forest management plan, and tied around its trees the yellow and blue trail markers you can still see–now frayed–in our woods. The “no trespassing” signs on our trees were mounted by Addison and his friend Al Eipper, a committee member, who (as they tell it) stood on each others’ backs to mount the signs out of the reach of hunters who would tear them down. Our old oak has seen turmoil, change, and hardship, and it will see more. It is an honor to carry on the tradition of protecting Lathrop’s trees.

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