From the Director's Desk: The Death and Rebirth of Our Great Oak

By Fred Breglia

About 500 years ago, an acorn sprout­ed that would one day grow into the Lan­dis Arboretum’s sig­na­ture tree, the Great Oak. The year was 1516, 300 years before the vil­lage of Esper­ance was found­ed. The sur­round­ing land­scape was full of dense oak forests where bear, moose, and wolves flourished.

Around 1616, the Great Oak cel­e­brat­ed its 100th birth­day, a mile­stone few of us humans will ever expe­ri­ence. It was still in its youth. Many Euro­peans began to set­tle the area, clear­ing the land by cut­ting trees. For some rea­son, the Great Oak was left to stand, high upon the hill over­look­ing the Schoharie Valley.

It aged grace­ful­ly over time and stood strong when the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, the French and Indi­an War, the War of 1812, and the Civ­il War made incur­sions into the val­ley. As it approached its 400th birth­day dur­ing the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, it was not cut for its tim­ber. It was even­tu­al­ly rec­og­nized as the tree that would lend its name to Oak Nose Farm,” the home of Lan­dis Arboretum’s founder, Fred Lape.

In 1951, the George Lan­dis Arbore­tum was cre­at­ed, and that grand tree on the hill became what we know it as today: the Great Oak. It became a fit­ting sym­bol of that orga­ni­za­tion. Like Lan­dis, it was a repos­i­to­ry of infor­ma­tion, stor­ing years of data in its rings, reveal­ing weath­er pat­terns, droughts, and floods. It has also stored dis­ease-resis­tant DNA, the code of which may nev­er be ful­ly under­stood in our lifetime.

With­in the past few years, the approach­ing demise of the Great Oak became appar­ent. A fence was built around it to pro­tect vis­i­tors from the even­tu­al col­lapse of its mighty trunk. Then, against all hope, the Great Oak failed to pro­duce leaves this year, sig­nal­ing its pass­ing. The trail was then re-rout­ed to high­light its neigh­bor, the 300+ year-old red oak, Big Red.”

But some­thing was miss­ing — until I received a phone call from a local fam­i­ly who asked about plant­i­ng a memo­r­i­al tree for their son, Jere­my. He had always loved he Lan­dis Arbore­tum, espe­cial­ly the Great Oak. We worked with the fam­i­ly to ded­i­cate a white oak sapling along­side our Great Oak, hon­or­ing Jeremy’s mem­o­ry and cel­e­brat­ing his life.

Fall 2016

Volume 34 , Number 4

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