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  • Writer's pictureKristin Bailey Wilson

Maud, the white oak

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

Everyone should be in an ongoing relationship with a tree or five. Maud is a Quercus alba, a white oak. She lives on our farm in strip of woods along a shallow creek. We bought this patch of brush a couple of years ago, and although Maud is towering, she was initially unremarkable among the other trees surrounding her.

She is remarkable though because our patch of brush and worn-out crop fields are disturbed. There's old bulldozer piles along the perimeters telling us. Humans have long changed the shape and purposes of the acres. Maud survived a bulldozer. She survived the cropping, fencing, cattle, logging - all the ambitions of those who felt they owned the land. She survived whoever was climbing the ladder that was once nailed to her trunk. One board remains.

White oak or Quercus alba
Maud is a white oak or Quercus alba located in Tennessee. This picture was taken in October of 2020.

The University of Tennessee Herbarium keeps a database of native plants to Tennessee, and you can sort it by county. It's a fantastic resource. When we bought our patch of brush in Tennessee, I sorted by county and turned it into an Excel sheet. There I record the native plants I've found on our patch. In doing all this, I noticed the white oak was not listed as a native tree to Macon county Tennessee. I emailed. A thoughtful researcher replied. We exchanged a few emails, and I sent pictures of Maud. Next thing I knew Maud herself is pictured in the database.

White Oak or Quercus alba or Maud
My husband standing by Maud.

Try connecting with a tree that's native to where you live, especially one that was planted by some hand other than a human one. What about a tree that's native to your area and old? You'd be surprised how many old trees live in public parks. These trees would be happy to have your company. Native trees connect you to your place. They plant your feet. Take a picture of your tree, a selfie, and a group shot with you, your tree, and your people.

Do things with your tree. Calculate the age. Post a picture to your social media. Be in company with a native tree. Have lunch with your tree. Then plant one. :) Plant a little ole oak tree in your yard.

Measured about 4 feet from the ground, Maud's circumference is 161.5 inches. Her circumference divided by pi makes her diameter 51.43 inches. Multiplying that by the growth rate for white oaks (5), Maud is 257 years old. She was but a wee acorn in 1765. Eleven years before Daniel Boone famously went hunting in the Cumberland gap, and 27 years before Kentucky became a state. She turned 100 years old the same year the Civil War ended. Maud is a tree to behold.

Maud reminds me that nature survives humans. Maud gives me hope. So I take her picture over and over. Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer penned his famous poem about trees when Maud was 148 years old. The last stanza that reminds me of Maud.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

The word poems stands in for all the devices of mankind, including institutionalized religion. I approach Maud and hear God. Joy Harjo words echo Kilmer's in her beautiful poem Speaking Tree written when Maud was 186 years old. Here's a snippet.

Quercus alba or white oak
Maud, a Quercus alba, taken in October of 2020.

Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,

But they do not understand poetry--

Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by

Wind, or water music--

Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft--

And it's true that I listen when I'm hanging around with Maud. I listen to her. It's the children's poet, Annette Wynne, who captured what Maud is to me with The Friendly Tree.

I've found a place beside a friendly tree,

Where I'll hide my face when the world hurts me,

For the tree will never hurt; I shall love it to the end;

It shall have a dear, dear name:

"My true and silent friend."

Sitting underneath Maud's branches I am reminded of the Almighty and of the tenacity of nature. Maud is a friend. Other people will have other kinds of reasons to be with trees, a hiding place, a reading nook, a place to meet a lover, a place to have lunch with family, or a place to take a nap. Take the time to turn the reason into a friendship. Be in a storied relationship with a tree.

Quercus alba or white oak
Maud, a white oak, taken in August of 2022.


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