The Life of an Oak Tree

We often reflect on how our youth had a bit more flare to it. But what about things and the non-human creatures that live longer than us? This post tells a story of the life of an oak tree and puts it in a perspective of how much more reckless has humanity become in the past century. So reckless and faster that we got comfortable disregarding seemingly small ecological hiccups. This blog post offers a short story perspective on what has changed in the life of an oak tree and what implications it has for the life of a human.

This cold spring I’m entering the 250s of my life. As my buds swell and lush green leaves start to sprout, I realize that I grew tall. But only now that I’m rather old, I’m not so sure I like the fact that my crown is much higher than what I grew to the sides. Besides, it’s mostly in my last 50 years of life that I grew so much; these years were harsh. As I reminisce about the life of an oak tree, I now accept that the first 100 years of my life were much nicer. 

 

It’s hard to say what has changed. I used to live a simple life. I interacted with my companions – the hawthorns and other shrubs, turtle doves coming from afar enjoying my, then rich and bushy canopy, or the parties we had through the networks of good old ‘shrooms growing underground. 

 

But then the tractors arrived. 

 

That was the point when things started getting a bit weird. I think that marks roughly the past 50 years of my life. Although things changed a lot, it felt nice from the beginning. I had more energy, I kept growing, everything happened so fast… 

Ecosystem Collapse:
Fertz and Pests in the Life of an Oak Tree

Mature and aware of my body, now I focus on finding the right balance. I realize that most of the time I kept getting high on the brown stuff the tractors keep bringing every fall and spring. The tractors call it fertilizing, but we adopted “fertz”. 

 

I didn’t even notice the hawthorns* disappearing. It didn’t even matter to me. I was not in the age group so attractive to the deer and other browsers anymore.  

The Role of Hawthorns and other Shrubs in the Life of an Oak Tree

The Role of Hawthorns and other Shrubs in the Life of an Oak Tree

*Hawthorns and other dense shrubs growing in grasslands can protect young tree saplings from being grazed or browsed. Grazing and browsing animals enjoy eating young leaves of trees or small tree saplings but get discouraged by the thorny, dense shrubs. The theory of grasslands suggests that most of Europe used to be grasslands and open-canopy forests that enabled trees like the oak to thrive. 

But then, suddenly everything became so fast and busy. What’s quite intriguing is that at the same time it all became so dull, boring, and stripped of life. We no longer had energy left for conversations or interactions that I used to have with other plants. Most of them disappeared under the roaring sounds of filthy tractors anyways. 

Our ecosystem collapsed. All that was so comfortingly familiar and pleasantly efficient to us disappeared; weeds, shrubs, and the funny mushrooms that were no longer fun now that we had fertz

But it’s the fertz that ruined us. 

The tractors took over the mushrooms’ territory. Now I understand; it was nothing but a turf war. The tractors got us high on fertz, the plants that stayed grew like crazy, and we didn’t need the mushrooms anymore. 

Tractors colonized our vibrant lands and replaced all that mattered to us with lettuce. One or two kinds, anything else died after they sprayed pesticides. 

Insects and birds left, the turtle doves don’t come anymore; unquestionably the ecosystem collapsed. Every year there are more tractors coming and salads holding it together by the stinky fertz.

It’s boring and it’s like living on junk food for the past 50 years. 

Why are Oaks Important:
The age, the Death, and the Life Thereafter.

Everybody in the neighborhood knew that the life of an oak tree was nothing to mess with. Us oaks live for centuries. And when we die; our bodies still live. We provide; we turn into worms’ and salamanders’ homes, the mushrooms thrive under our decaying bodies, everybody knows we stick around to give back to the land where we grew up.

 

Everybody but the tractors. A few years ago, one of our long-live friends couldn’t bear the weight of the tractors on her roots and died.

But I cannot stress it out enough; the life of an oak tree doesn’t end by dying. If only the tractors listened to us and weren’t so fast and reckless with everything. It’s as if they don’t care about us at all. Could that be that they just don’t know? 

One spring the tree didn’t wake up, it didn’t even take until the summer and all that’s left now is a dry stump. All that we oaks live for was gone. The life, the death, and the life that comes after the death; insects, fungi, salamanders. Everything.

The Oak Tree Ideal of Beauty:
Sun, Broccoli, and the Dropped Branch.

The life of the oak tree friend I talked about was tough. That Oak was right. Crying for help, antagonizing the tractors; warning us that us oaks simply don’t mean anything to them. One by one, we’ll end up as ashes if that’s needed. 

 

Take our balance for instance. Remember I told you I started looking for my balance these years? With age, as we grow, we like to explore our inner balance. If necessary, within a few years we can “drop” a branch towards the ground to find new balance. We might even touch the ground to get better support. Because we can be large creatures.

 

But the tractors, of course, keep getting caught up in our leaves for so long that they organize to cut our dropping branches. And talking about the life after death; they pull it away and burn it. Instead, they keep feeding our land with the fertz to grow lettuce. 

 

Bless the life of an oak! I swear that’s what happened. They cut her dropped branch off. A few seasons later, when the spring came she didn’t wake up. She couldn’t bear it anymore. By the summer, she was gone…

The Lives of Tractors,
Ecological Baseline and Maximizing Profit

If there is a higher force that drives the lives of tractors then we oaks don’t align with it. 

 

Growing lettuce, instead of letting rich grassland thrive is non-sense. What we used to have here ensured life from the banks of the river to the peaks of the mountains. What grows here now, the lettuce, provides only for what makes the tractors move.

 

Pondering on where I live now gives me the idea that tractors don’t understand. Every other year, the tractors change, but none of them actually remembers the lands the way I do. For them lettuce and fertz is how they know it. The only ecological baseline they have. For me it’s grasslands.

 

I’ve heard stories about mushrooms being individualistic capitalists; yes, they facilitate exchange. They make sure everyone in the neighborhood has all they need if they have something to offer in return. But whatever it is called, they have mora(e)ls. In the end, they won’t let anyone high and dry.

 

The tractors don’t even ask. They come, they violently plow, they trample our roots, they get us high on the stinky fertz, only to grow their lettuce. Not caring about the past, because they don’t know it. Their goal is clear; to live for and maximize production of lettuce now.

 

They don’t realize that the ecosystem basically already collapsed years ago and it’s only a matter of time until the land is so empty that not even lettuce will grow here anymore. All that will be left is dust and not even fertz will bring it back to life.

 

 

I wish the tractors would listen to us and realize that together we could fix it…