Thursday, April 8, 2010

Our Mighty Oak

Standing directly in the middle of my mother's backyard is a very large and very old Burr oak. The tree is close to 100 ft. tall and is about 8 ft. in diameter. Its branches span the entire width and depth of the yard and it has stood in its same place, with a commanding presence, forever. Many years ago, my dad asked the conservation department to come out and guesstimate the age of the tree. If memory serves correctly, they told us it was about 300 years old. Think about that for a minute and all this tree has experienced during that time.

When I was little, my dad and I would often talk about that wonderful tree. He delighted in feeding my crazy imagination with stories about cowboys and indians using it for shade during long hot, dusty trail rides or protection during fierce gunfights. Of course, it was probably the size of a sapling then. It didn't matter to me. In my mind's eye, I could just see that cowboy or indian apprehensively peeking around the trunk of the tree.

The tree is home to all kinds of wildlife - many families of squirrels have entertained us with their daredevil jumps from branch to branch. Oftentimes, they would sit above us while we were playing a game of catch or raking leaves. They would tease us by tossing huge acorns on our heads. We always thought they did it on purpose. At times, it has been the home of raccoons, oppossum, a snake or two and, always, a myriad offering of birds. It has even been the home to a humongous bee hive that we had to have professionally removed.

Throughout the years, my family, and those important to us, have enjoyed our tree. It may sound strange to say, but; it is one of us. At one time, we had an old tire swing hanging from one of its awesome branches. This branch was huge and about 20-30 ft. off the ground. The swing was an incredibly sturdy rope and the tire hung from it. That swing carried us on many carefree days laughing, screaming and exhilirating in the ride. Or, sometimes, we would just "wind" the rope up into a twist, let go and hang on for dear life as we would spin and spin - either riding on top of the tire or lying on our bellies through the middle.

Life has not always been kind to our oak. It has been hit by lightening several times and has the scars to prove it. It has lost a lot of its larger limbs during the different storms it has endured. Yet, it still stands, strong and weathered and beautiful.

The oak has been a guardian to my family as we have played, enjoyed life and each other below its branches. It has offered shade on sunny days and a cool breeze when the air has been still. It has stood as a sentry and has watched diligently as my sisters and I have grown up. It has also protected our children and now, our grandchildren.

Recently, we had a family celebration and, as we were having a good time together hanging out on my mom's back porch, the talk circled around to that amazing tree. I wondered, as I watched my mom's great-grandchildren playing beneath it, what it would have to say about us. This is now the fourth generation enjoying the shade, the protection and the watchful eye of this incredible testament to God's creation.

My niece's husband was in absolute awe of the size and beauty of the mighty oak. He said something that stuck with me - "Wow, that is really something to be protected". He's right. Not just in the physical sense, though. The oak tree has seen much and knows much about my family and me. It holds secrets of the precious parts of watching us grow, memories we made as we played together, dreamed together and enjoyed being a family together. It is a special part of us and I hope we have brought it joy, too.

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