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Thieving Oaks

June 24, 2014

People tell me their gardens won’t grow. First thing I ask is about trees. Trees throw shade, which is perhaps their most valuable service, and the eggplant wants lots of sunshine. Just as important to note is that the trees drink water. They are never slaked. They’re out there now guzzling it all up. In the summer, after the kind of dry winters we have had, the trees are sending their roots to prowl further out, deeper down, coiling about furtively, probing perhaps for an old sewer line to invest. That’s their favorite source after a creek or a farm. For trees, there is nothing finer that an old clay sewer pipe full of water and fresh, wholesome effluent that their roots can curl up in.

I have mighty stands of oaks on the farm, mesmerizing, three-hundred year-old mots that crush the sunshine during the day. These babies are three feet thick at the base and wander outward defying gravity in an effort to gather in more light. Out, out they stretch until their reach has exceeded their structural capability to support that much weight over such an extended horizontal distance. Down they come. It’s the only thunder we get nowadays. One fell over and put some serious hurt on the chain link fence by Rice Road this week. Bent two poles in half too. There’s one on Baldwin near Rice reaching out over the highway that’s coming down in slow-motion. I have been watching it for seven years, expecting it to land on the hood of my truck as I drive under it.

When I showed Wes the tree that came down over the fence I said: “ See now! I told you that they like to come down in the Summer. That’s why you need to be careful where you pitch your tent under these trees.”

He’s a mountain climber so he put his tent under the oaks anyway, but in a more judicious location than previously contemplated. He must like to keep his danger topped off. I have heard (however I may have just as surely made it up) that the oaks crash down in summer because their roots do too good a job of delivering water to their thirsty leaves, and water can be heavy. The leaves are out there panting like an Iron Woman contestant in Kona, slammed by the heat and significantly short on moisture. The roots, tirelessly working way down below like boiler-room teams used to on the old ships (you have seen the game, grimy lads fiercely shoveling coal so the Titanic can break that Atlantic crossing time record…) are bound to deliver the life-saving fluid to the leaves or all photosynthesis will cease. And the truth is, if you have run out of photosynthesis you may as well pack it up and say good-bye. So these roots are the unsung heroes of all life, to put it mildly.

On the east side of the farm, the oaks are jammed in all over the embankment, flexing out of the quarry stone piled up under Rice to keep the road from collapsing down the hill. I used to farm as close as I could to that edge. But the oaks own that sector.  I have a six-inch water line running parallel to the road and the oaks, with a turn-around there for the tractor. But there is no point in farming very close to those thieving oaks. I swear I can hear them slurping at midday, like somebody finishing up a smoothie with a straw.

Evaporation is relentless. We tend to ignore it all too often, but if you had 1.5 million leaves all over you they would act as 1.5 million post-it notes, reminding you to drink more water.

I always lose a good ten feet of whatever is planted near to the oaks, especially celery or broccoli. They’re known as “thirsty” crops. Two hundred feet down the line the celery will be thirty inches tall and broad. Up by those greedy oaks, specimens of that same generation look as if they were planted a month later. So I have been scooting west now to escape the oak tree’s roots. But they’re following me like a downtown pick-pocket. Seems like I move over a bit, thinking my crop will be safe from them, and within a month or so the zucchini up there is not as robust as its brethren further on. No love lost there though, if you have ever had the pleasure of maintaining two thousand feet of summer squash in a burdened market. The oaks can take all they want. Even the charity is probably getting crushed by all my summer squash, but they have to accept the gift. At least somebody has some manners left on this petty hell-hole.

Pardon me, earthly Paradise. 


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