Oregon White Oak, or Garry Oak (Quercus garryana)
We lost the most magnificent oak tree the night before last, the first night of the heavy snow. My feelings have taken me two days to process, and though I’ve calmed enough to write about it, I still feel a little spooked, and very sad.
It was our neighbor’s tree, but from every window on the east side of our house we had a Homeric view. On my neighbor’s 100’ x 100’ lot, its reach filled over 2/3 of the property. The house that was built there in 1994 was forced to be on the very edge of the land.
This Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana) was 200 years old, easily, and we think closer to 300. It was here long before any white settlers, and its perfectly rounded form indicates it had always grown in a full circle of sun, not encroached by the douglas firs that formed the dominant forest of these parts. It must have grown its life in a meadow, perhaps maintained from becoming a forest by native peoples.
Although it was one of the most perfectly-formed Oregon White Oaks I had ever seen, it had one fatal flaw. It had grown, from an early age, with two main trunks. With the heavy snow of Jan 10-11, 2017, it split completely in two, one side falling north taking out a huge swath of fences and hedge; the other side falling south, landing on my neighbor's house. The wonderful people inside were unharmed.
I could write about the sheer adrenaline on the night I ran down to see if my neighbors were OK; or how, inside, the house groaned under the weight; or about the eerie cracks and moans from the snow-loaded trees all around me. As of this writing, that monster oak still rests on the 2-story house (crews unable to get to it yet) and it looms ominously toward my windows in the moonlit night.
I could write about the disturbing state of mind I found when “what you think is real (or solid)” is not real or solid after all. Or the strange feeling in my heart each time I look out the windows once dominated by this presence, and suddenly realize afresh, there is nothing there but sky.
But mostly tonight I would like to share my sadness for the loss of this Pillar of a tree. It was a powerful beauty, and thus the frequent object of my reverie, and my camera. I’d like to share some of those photographs with you tonight. And a few from the last two days as well.
Let this be my memorial. My remembrance of the life of this magnificent tree.
The sight of these leaves in May. Oh! What a color. Such a beauty.
These are my favorite photograph(s) of this tree, fresh with spring green growth, dripping with moss from every limb, and a morning light of May showers passing through.
See the above photo on a big screen if you can!
It is a great view of the roof of my neighbor's house, from the same upstairs window that I'll use in next week's post about what happened on that roof.
January 11, 2017, 1:00 a.m.
Now jump ahead to the early morning hours of late Wednesday night. A "little" snow storm that no one expected to see much of, turned into record snowfall for some of the greater-Portland area. During the night, it was accumulating to 13" here in Scappoose.
About 1 a.m., the twin trunk split down the middle, each half falling directly opposite the other.
(Please note how deceptively small the tree and house look in these photos. Bear in mind the house in the photos is 2 stories high, and I am a half a football field away.)
What Deer Know
Funny how the deer just moved on back in, after the tree fell, strolling about it as silently as the blanket of snow. When I took photos the next day, deer trails through the deep snow were everywhere. They were in and amongst and under the fallen limbs, moving under its elephantine trunks unperturbed. Yet me, at first, I would not go anywhere near that tree! It was a spooky feeling, walking under it. It’s still so massive, this giant laying still partly in the air, it almost puts out a vibration.
Part of the top crown of the fallen oak landed maybe eight feet over my property line, and some of it rests on a 15’ tall pine tree of ours. The night before I had walked under that pine because the snow is so much shallower there. I looked up, and—<eyes flew open!>—the horizontal oak crown loomed silent and huge, directly above, inside the canopy of the pine. I lightning bolted out of there!!
Yet that is exactly where the deer spent the night. Their bed-down spots, warm and clean and so obvious in the snow, were concentrated under than pine.
Animals have perceptions that humans do not. They sense when something is wrong, and they are relaxed when the world around them is well. The deer in my yard are as peaceful with the oak now as they were when it was standing.
Perhaps I can get there, and settle my heart, like them.
Story and photography by Alyse Lansing ©. All rights reserved.