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Thursday, September 23, 2021

If Trees Could Talk by Connie Berry


Twenty-one years ago when my husband and I bought our virgin forest land in rural Ohio, we fell in love with this huge old oak tree on the property. Because we didn’t want the construction of our house to damage the tree, we hired an arborist to make recommendations. He measured the trunk’s girth and told us our tree was approximately 250 years old. Think of the history that tree has witnessed during its long life. If it could talk, what tales would it tell?

We’re taking good care of the tree in hopes it will see another century or two. It’s certainly possible.

In 1700, the poet John Dryden published Palamon and Arcite, based on The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. In that poem, Dryden wrote this:

 The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees, Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees. Three centuries he grows; and three he stays, Supreme in state; and in three more decays.

A nine-hundred-year lifespan is impressive.


Britain is rightly famous for its ancient oaks. The largest native tree, the oak has come to symbolize the very essence of Great Britain. Oaks can reach almost 150 feet—equal to a fifteen-story building—and can attain a girth of more than 45 feet. Unfortunately, oaks are prone to fungal rot which creates hollow cavities. Here’s a photo of me taken several years ago near Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds. This oak was a relative youngster. The giant Cowthorpe Oak in Yorkshire was already venerable in 1600 when William Shakespeare described it in As You Like It:

An oak whose boughs were mossed with age, And high top bald with dry antiquity. 

The Cowthorpe Oak (now gone) was said to once have held seventy people within its hollow cavity, including children perched on shoulders. Now all that remains is a stump, but acorns from that tree have been planted all over Britain and in such far-away places as New Zealand.

So far, ancient trees have played no part in the Kate Hamilton Mysteries. I really think that should change! Now all I have to do is come up with a plot.

Have you ever planted a tree? An old Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Do you have a favorite tree in your personal history—maybe a climbing tree in your childhood or one of the giant redwoods? Tell us about it.