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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