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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