Thursday, March 16, 2017

Der Alte

Der Alte (“the old man” in German) was, for some reason, the first thing that came to mind after the “Wow!” when I came upon this extremely large tree along a timber sale road in the Big Woods.

And so, I tagged it with the name Der Alte. It’s a chestnut oak, often called rock oak because they tend to be found on poorer growing sites that grow more rocks than trees. 

Looking at the trees around this one it’s clearly much, much larger than its neighbors. It’s usually not possible to determine a tree’s age by its diameter – small trees can be, and often are, older than nearby large trees. Trees’ diameter and growth rates are determined by a number of factors including their species, genetics, the availability of nutrients and water, and competition from neighboring trees. But this tree clearly pre-dates the trees surrounding it. How many winters has this tree seen, how many changes in the surrounding forest?

Standing beneath Der Alte, against its four foot diameter trunk, and looking up, the sheer mass of the tree is impressive –

Several large burls grace the tree’s trunk. Those burls would make some woodworkers drool as they thought of the bowls or other beautiful objects that could display the intricate grain usually found in burls.

At some point in the distant past Der Alte lost the uppermost part of its crown and the wound began to decay. The tree is probably hollow for much of its height, perhaps all the way to the ground.

Thirty years ago I accompanied a bear biologist on a winter day as he tracked a female black bear that had been fitted with a radio collar. He planned to replace the collar and weigh any cubs she had. When we got to the bear’s location, we found that she was denned inside a tree similar to Der Alte in that it had lost its top and was hollow all the way to the ground – and the radio collar's signal indicated that the bear was spending the winter in the base of the hollow tree.

Needless to say, we never got nearer to that bear than standing against the tree listening to the radio collar's signal and looking up. 

Perhaps there was a bear in Der Alte.


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