You can’t be in the heart of the Willamette Valley for long without noticing our big Oregon White Oak trees. These ancient dome-shaped structures are conspicuous in their size and shape, taller than most buildings, wide at the base, with primary limbs--themselves the size of tree trunks--reaching up and out, supporting their scraggly branches that point off in every direction.
Oak trees always seem out of place in the city. Their big shallow root systems heave with the weather, making cracks in sidewalks and driveways. Massive limbs (we call them “widowmakers”) break off, falling to the ground with a heavy "thud" during windstorms and silver thaws. Moss and lichen, bugs, all at home in the oaks, constantly make messes on cars and homes. No doubt about it, these trees are happiest out in the country.
I love riding past a grove of oak trees, imagining all the stories and secrets they have known and kept during their lifetimes. Many of the ones with us today were already a century old when Jason Lee arrived with a group of missionaries, and scores of settlers arrived from the eastern states. These are some of the oldest things living in the valley. Year by year, ring upon ring, they have been here through this area's entire modern history. From their earliest days when oak savannas stood over the grasslands, they now stand watch over well-tended orchards of cherries and hazelnuts, rows of grapes and hops, turf grasses and dairy pastures.
I can’t explain why exactly, but something happens to me when I see a gnarly old oak tree standing all by itself in an open field. It makes me think of a earlier, simpler time, long before I was alive. I remember as a kid, doing pen and ink drawings of these scenes. Still today I like to photograph them. These stately old trees connect us to a past we’ve kept alive through stories and old photographs, of generations now gone.