Freeing the General: The Story of an Oak

Within the bounds of Faville Grove's recent land acquisition grows a stately bur oak. MAS staff and volunteers have been working through cold, snow, and harsh weather to free the General from the grips of spindly boxelder, elms and cedarto return it to savanna. Land steward Drew Harry reflects on the rescue mission, below.

On the shores of the past sits a tree, Chaus-cha-goo-dah, oak tree, Quercus macrocarpa, bur oak tree, the General.

"Sits" is an improper word. The branches of this single tree have moved many times around the earth, traveled farther than some spacecraft have traveled deep into space, moved more than any car, person, or animal; moved more than most everything, save light and water, molecules and atoms.

  The General can be seen, looking out once again on a familiar vista of prairie, savanna, open water, and sphagnum bog.

The General can be seen, looking out once again on a familiar vista of prairie, savanna, open water, and sphagnum bog.

A big tree reaches down with its branches, dips them into the past, and brushes a story of time, place and space. The bur oak's portrait scribbles images as much about itself as about us, the people. The people fueled by oak, the people who left the trees in the middle of fields, along roads, in yards and subdivisions—because they liked those sprawling, scribbling branches. The big tree provided form to the land, Nah-hahde-key-cha-chah, the oak opening or savanna.

The General—north of Highway 89, west of a watershed divide, and just east of a kettle pond, where glacial ice once swallowed the state and froze it in glacial time—lives where it grew up hundreds of years ago in the sunlit savannas. The sun, some 93 million miles away, sketched a path for the General's branches. The fire and the poor soils erased competitors, lines out of place. Eventually the lines of European settlers and the oak diverged, the trajectory of people moving further from the roots of the big tree. Fire suppression lent space to skinny, spindly boxelders, elms, and cedars. The lower branches of the General faded and died as the skinny trees grew upward.

  The General still obscured behind the limbs of more invasive woodland trees; yet in the foreground: hope. This woodland restoration will bring savanna back to the General.

The General still obscured behind the limbs of more invasive woodland trees; yet in the foreground: hope. This woodland restoration will bring savanna back to the General.

Now, we are back at the roots, on the base of the tree, feeling small, looking out on the shores of the past. The General, sunlit once again, is a promontory over the pond. Its limbs freed, its future bright. 

A reflection on restoration by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward