The Currant Farm Oak
There are thousands of wonderful, interesting trees on the Currant Farm. Stately American black walnuts hiding the most beautiful wood beneath their bark, shagbark hickories with their sheepdog trunks, black birch with their intoxicating wintergreen fragrance, willows which harbor compounds to treat headaches, fevers, and muscle pain at the end of a day in the fields, black locusts boasting incredible spring displays of pendulous white flowers from which my honey bees make the most delicious honey, white birch which sometimes surprise me with the great medicinal Chaga mushrooms and many, many more. But of all the trees on the farm, the oaks hold sway over my imagination and favor Chestnut oaks, scarlet oaks, red oaks, pin oaks, and my single most favorite tree in the world, Quercus alba, the majestic white oak. The white oak is the longest living oak in the North East. One such specimen, the Bedford Oak, living about 40 miles south of the farm, is estimated to be about 500 years old. The sapling that was to become this mammoth stood erect in an ancient primeval world when the second wave of European settlers were just stepping off their sailing ships onto their New World .
I last visited this Methuselah on a warm summer day a couple of years ago. I remember being struck with an almost tangible peace and serenity standing under the elephantine branches. The rays of the morning sun filtered through the new green leaves dappling my face and imagination with warmth and I was easily and instantly transported to the moment, eons ago, when the bottom point of an acorn split open and give birth to a single, innocent, determined root. That year, like most, a deluge of acorns would have poured from the parent tree now remembered only by the venerable mycorrhizal fungus which lived in this soil for a thousand years before and does so still. Most of the acorns were consumed quickly by deer, bear, turkeys, ruffed grouse and even the indigenous peoples who called this place home. The acorns of the white oak are favored among all the acorns and as such, precious few are left to sprout new progeny each year making the white oak more aperiodic and scarce than most. The pristine white root pushing through the pericarp of the nut instantly recognized the soil it had never met. Its first taste of dampness triggered the release and formation of the shoot which innately grows in the opposite direction and its first blink of the sun sets in motion the process of photosynthesis which is the generator of virtually all life on the planet. From that moment on, this tree has silently stood witness to all that has transpired within its province and oblivious to all the storms, wars and human travails for half a millennium.
The branches of the white oak grow mostly perpendicular to the trunk. This feature was widely used by the natives of this land long before the first European sails dotted the horizon. Knowing that the white oak boasted this peculiarity and that it outlived everyone in the tribe, they would prune off all the lower branches of the tree save for one pointing in a desired direction. Any indigenous traveler need only to come across a conspicuously pruned white oak, often on a hill, and know instantly the direction to a meeting place or some other point of significance. Most of these “Trail Trees” were wantonly cut down to clear land without notice of their meaning or purpose. Only a handful of protected specimens remain.
The Oak was central to many archaic cultures especially the Druids whose very name, Druid, is derived from the Celtic word for Oak and the further derivative Duir means door. Duir, door, Tür, Tor, can all be traced back to the Sanskrit root for door, dvāram. Doors were not only the thing that was on the front of one’s house, they also signified a portal to another world beyond. Almost all doors were once crafted from Oak for its strength as well as its significance to keep out the undesirables including evil spirits. The Druids as with many archaic cultures were mystical peoples and great old oaks were both meeting places for august events as well as a door or passageway to another world.
I’ve been entranced by the white oak as far back as I can remember and there’s a connection that supersedes my admiration for this wonderful tree. So, paramount has the white oak become to my very essence, that many years ago I planted a beautiful sapling on the exact peak of the hill overlooking the old farm house. When the day comes that I shuffle off this mortal coil and pass through the door to what’s beyond, I intend for this vessel, which I’ve used to wander these woods and fields, to join the roots of this majestic tree and happily spend its next iteration as an integral part of the life of the Currant Farm Oak.
Cheers from the Currant Farm,