Northern Burr Oak – 333 Years Old – 192/365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
On Sunday I joined over 100 people in Riverside Park near the Franklin Avenue Bridge to pay tribute to the oldest known tree in Minneapolis. It is estimated that the Northern Burr Oak dates back to 1677. In the wake of the oak’s recent death, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation will be cutting it down in the Fall. We listened to sculptors, poets, neighborhood kids, and Cancer survivors who found solace in being near this tree. It felt to me like I was standing on hallowed ground. The tree has outlived all the humans who have ever set foot here. Imagine what she has seen.
In this photograph from 1941, the ancient Northern Burr Oak seems healthy and happy, her giant crown holding court over the Mississippi River Gorge. Here is an excerpt from documentation at the site of the gathering:
THE ANCIENT OAK TREE — Perhaps the oldest living thing in Minneapolis is the huge Northern Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa var. olivaeformia) that graces the west bank of the Mississippi in Riverside Park, about two blocks above the Franklin Avenue bridge, an enduring sentinel at the point where River Road West descends down into a most picturesque stretch of river gorge. Estimated by various botanists to be all the way from 150 to 700 years old, this valiant aborigine stands 58 feet tall, with a branch spread of 66 feet and a trunk girth of 14 feet at a point two feet above the ground. Symmetrically beautiful, this “first citizen” of Minneapolis, surviving the storms, drought, and fires that during the years have scourged the area of others of its kind, still remains a picture of physical strength and majestic beauty. Many are those who periodically come to Franklin Terrace to admire this grand old tree and to marvel at its great antiquity. In his little book, Riverside Reveries, published in 1928, Dr. Otto F. Schussler paints a beautiful word picture of this beloved old tree that “with a quiet dignity unsurpassed, and a perseverance unfaltering through the years continued to grow in size, in strength and ever-increasing beauty.”
-from the book Minneapolis Park System, 1941, by Theodore Wirth
As to the fate of the tree, opinions were mixed. Should it be cut down and turned into sculptures or pins? Should it remain as it stands, a living monument to all it has seen? Should the tree be felled and replaced with sapling Burr Oaks? What is the best way to honor the life and death of an ancient tree? Let it stand or let it fall.
After I returned home, I started to think about all the posts ybonesy and I have done about trees over the years. There is the giant cottonwood in the courtyard of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and the Lawrence Tree that Georgia O’Keeffe painted just outside of Taos, New Mexico. ybonesy has written about the cottonwood in her backyard and the carving of the Virgen de Guadalupe in a cottonwood in Albuquerque. She also wrote a piece about the art of Patrick Dougherty who uses the limbs, trunks, and canopies of trees to build his installations.
One year on my travels to Georgia, I visited a ginkgo in Augusta that was supposedly planted in 1791 for the visit of George Washington. And last year, for the first time, I stood under the giant pine where my paternal grandmother is buried. Our guest Linda Weissinger Lupowitz writes about New Mexico cottonwoods in What’s Happened To The Corrales Bosque? And in Fourteen Dozen Roses: The World As The Jungle It Is, Erin Robertson shares her poetry and explains how her tattoo of a ginkgo leaf makes her feel closer to her grandfather.
What do trees mean to you? Is there an oak you visit that brings you peace? Do you like to write under a grove of Ponderosa pines, sketch the bark of the ash in your front yard, run your fingers across the groove of a cottonwood’s skin. Have you lost a tree that was important to you. Are there trees that make you feel closer to home. Get out a fast writing pen and spiral notebook and get started on a Writing Practice — My Favorite Tree. Ten minutes, Go!
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