I think I’ve got a blackjack oak in my back yard, but I can’t be sure. I’ve eliminated most of what I know it’s not, reducing the number of possibilities of what it is. I know it’s an oak, and I believe it to be a red oak. It’s still too young for acorns, so I’m just working with the leaves as young bark isn’t much help for me. Digging around on the Internet, it looks like my tree might be the subspecies Quercus marilandica Münchhausen, commonly found in the western portion of the species’ range.
That portion of the area, I’ve learned, is in Texas and Oklahoma. Seriously, don’t trees read the field guides anymore?
It’s more likely, I know, that I’m not correct with my tentative identification, and the trees, indeed, do their research.
Anyway, the tree. It’s growing in the furthest reaches of my back yard, and, as I said earlier, it’s just a sapling. Standing maybe 12 feet tall, it’s growing in heavy shade, so it’s not exactly rushing to add height.
That’s okay, I suppose, because sometimes I think I don’t actually want it to be there, and I’ll most likely cut it down sometime soon. (“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”)
The tree is growing beside a pecan sapling that’s growing beneath a silver maple that’s growing between a cherry and the 20-year-old pecan that we actually planted. And those are just the trees. There’s also an assortment of shrubs and vines (mostly Chinese Privet with some poison ivy tucked in for good measure) and forbs in and around everything.
The maple and the cherry are both around 10 years old, and those two trees will eventually be cut down as well. Probably, that is…I haven’t done it yet, but probably. Aside from the tallest pecan, the whole assemblage is growing amongst a cluster of trees and hedges in the yards of my neighbors behind and beside my own yard.
Arboriculturally, things are a mess back there, but I kind of like the mess because I’m coming to know it. I sometimes feel the need to clean up that area, bringing it into a state of conformity with the rest of the yard, but I’m getting to know those trees and shrubs and vines and all their herbaceous little buddies. I know most of their names, other than my rogue oak, and am learning their behaviors and growing patterns. I’m coming to see them as individuals, just as I see them as part of the collective. They are good, those plants. It is good, that space.
My yard is far from manicured, but it looks a lot like those of my neighbors. That space, though, tucked in near the back fence, is the exception to the expanse that I “maintain.” That space, with those trees, with those shrubs, and with everything else is a reminder that nature isn’t far behind any of my efforts to control my little slice of the world.
I’m sure, if they could, the trees would snicker quietly (or guffaw loudly) at my use of the word “control.”
That space lets me step, however briefly, into a more natural world. I go, I breathe, I rest my hand on the bole of the maple or cherry, and then – with just a few paces – I step back from the mystic. I step back to where the grass is cut at the medium setting on my mower, and I can almost feel my pupils contracting in the sunlight.
So it stays, that space, and my tree remains a dendrological mystery for now. As October progresses, leaves will fall and my primary clues will be gone until spring.
That’s okay. I can wait.
“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?”
– Aldo Leopold