Oaks are a conservative sort of tree. At least we've found it so at our house. We live in pine tree country; for years we planted, tended and harvested pines as part of our living, but many of the trees in the yard around our house are oaks.
After some research in my old botany manual I was able to determine that most of our oaks are scarlet oak. When I say that they are conservative I am speaking not of their political outlook, but of their growth habits. In the spring, for example, when all the other trees and shrubs are bursting forth with leaf and blossom, the oaks still appear entirely dormant. It's almost as if they know that we are likely to have sleet and snow and late frost, and they don't want to risk leafing out too soon. This spring reluctance has even become incorporated in north country folklore, giving us the adage about planting corn when the oak leaves are as big as squirrels' ears.
In summer our oaks stand firm and solid against the storms, bending a little before the winds, but almost never breaking.
In autumn they are again slow to change. The maples are clothed in scarlet or translucent yellow, the birch trees shimmer with gold coin leaf, and the ash groves are already bare before the oaks change color. Even when they do change, the colors are conservative shades of maroon and russet. An oak grove in autumn can be inspiringly beautiful, but the colors are never as brilliant as some of our other hardwoods.
Most other trees drop their leaves with the coming of winter, but the oaks are still tenacious. Their dried and faded leaves rattle in the winter wind, giving the oaks the appearance of being clothed in tatters while other trees are naked in the cold. Sometimes the brown leaves of the previous year are still in place when the new pink leaves of spring begin another season.
I grew up in central Minnesota where white oaks were common. They were prized for fence posts and firewood. Sometimes they were used for lumber too, but the boards were so hard that they were difficult to build with. Red and scarlet oak are sometimes used for interior finish too.
We sometimes cut a dead or dying oak for firewood, but even then these trees seem to resist change. The dead branches cling to one another, making the felling and limbing a trying operation. Living among the oaks is not always pure joy. The acorns are a nuisance on the lawn, and the leaves are a problem both in fall and in spring. Still, it's nice to have something solid to relate to in this changing world. Perhaps that's why we're fond of oaks.
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