From the Director's Desk: An Obituary

By Fred Bregalia

It is with great sorrow that I report the passing of an old friend, the Arboretum’s Great Oak.

For several hundred years, the Great Oak stood tall and strong in the face of wind, rain, ice, and snow, serenely contemplating the Schoharie Valley. When the land was first cleared in 1840, the owner recognized its majesty and let it stand. Herman Lape, Fred Lape's father, also appreciated the tree and the knoll it stood on when he bought the land in 1902. He christened his new home Oak Nose Farm. Fred Lape had a fondness for the tree as well and cared for it as best he could. It was hit by lightning at least twice. It weathered insects and diseases.

Unfortunately nothing lasts forever, not even a 500-year-old oak. The beginning of the end started in 1940 when half the crown was lost due to a four day ice storm. 2011’s devastating Hurricane Irene delivered the death blow to the Great Oak.

As many of you know, this tree has had a powerful impact on my life. From my first “tree hug” to my wedding day, this tree has symbolized the resilience and the majesty of nature to me. It taught me the meaning of being “rooted.”

My parents, both nature lovers, introduced me to the wonder of plants and animals and instilled in me the value of a healthy natural environment. A family visit to the Arboretum when I was five years old was my first encounter with the old white oak. There was no fence around it then, so the family all gathered around its trunk, held hands, and gave it a hug. It took four of us just to reach around it. Little did I know that someday I would be working at Landis Arboretum, charged with caring for the Great Oak.

Several years later, I became a “Big Tree Hunter” and eventually an “Old Growth Protector” and an ISA Certified Arborist. I was able to document the Great Oak’s age at approximately 500 years. I began creating multiple art pieces featuring the tree in pen and ink, paint, and photography. In July of 2008, I was married to my wife Erin beneath its great canopy. I brought both of my sons, Freddy and Michael, to stand before this extraordinary tree.

I know that my family has been one of several that has been sheltered in its leafy arms. And all that have gazed upon its splendor will miss it terribly.

But nature endures.

A companion of the Great Oak for many years is Big Red, a red oak over 300 years old. A rerouting of the existing Woodland Trail will pass by this venerable tree and connect to the Old Growth Forest, which contains some other very old oaks. In doing so, we honor the memory of the Arboretum’s first friend, the Great Oak.

Fall 2015

Volume 33 , Number 4

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