meet virginia

let me orient you to part of our new garden to be.  while there’s not much there now, other than the expanse of st. augustine, there’s one element i’ve already grown accustomed to looking at every day.  the oak tree.

Quercus virginia, december 2008
Quercus virginiana, december 2008

now, this isn’t your ordinary oak tree.  it’s a live oak, Quercus virginiana.  only thing is, it’s not so live anymore.  i can’t tell if it’s suffered from oak wilt disease or if it had one too many bull dozers rest on its root system while building the lovely neighborhood i’m so proud to be a part of.  at first, all i could think of was what a hazard tree it was.  technically, it’s in our neighbors back yard, so there’s not much we can do about it.  they don’t seem to be the green thumb or arborist-calling type and we have bets as to when and why they’d ever do anything about it.  i thought for sure the whole thing would come down during huricane ike, but we’re far enough inland that we didn’t experience any major damage.  two months after the hurricane a big branch came down, clipping off a mere corner of stockade fence panel before landing in our back yard.  that’s when we realized how fascinating the tree really was.  covered in a mini forest of green lichens, gray mosses and orange spore throwing-organisms, the structure of the tree was still supporting life. lots of it.

virginia's epiphyte friends
virginia's epiphyte friends
hemiptera friend
hemiptera friend

the crawling and flickering insects have even attracted downy and red-headed woodpeckers who often serenade us during the day.  but my favorite part has been watching the bloom cycles of the lichens and mosses change as the moisture content in the air fluctuates.  a bit of rain, and the tree comes to life as its mossy costume unfurls;  an amazing transformation to watch unfold, literally, before your eyes.  and because of all this, the oak tree has become the visual datum of the garden for me.  the element to gauge all other change against.  and fitting, because she’s been keeping watch over this area for who knows how many years.   now i will watch with her.  i hope she likes the view.

Quercus virginia, casting a new shadow
Quercus virginiana, casting a new shadow

8 thoughts on “meet virginia

  1. “the visual datum”? My garden vocab just got amped up sevvvveral notches 🙂
    I love it–no leaves but instead this other intensely alive and usually insignificant presence is the garden herald.
    In my favorite Austin apt, I had a big bay window on the second story, looking right into the boughs of an old oak. I kept tons of pots on the deck & stair landing, and I’d dug up & planted the small bed along the front of the building, but the oak made it feel like my garden, like I really lived in it.

    • i hope she doesn’t. looking back at the photos, she had some, not a lot, of leaves back in july when we were looking at the house, and fewer and fewer as the months went on. maybe just the effects of winter? maybe something else. i’ll keep my eyes open, and maybe be surprised come spring…! thanks for the article link – good ol’ aggie hort at work!

  2. Oh, she’s beautiful! I hope she remains a safe guardian of your home and neighborhood. As much as you enjoy watching what’s going on in her ecosystem, you might like the book The Wild Trees by Richard Preston.

  3. I didn’t know he had a TED lecture, thanks for the link! I just watched it. A lot of the pictures he used in the lecture are directly out of the book, but, yes, they are clearer in the book. After reading the book, I was so excited about the idea of sleeping in the trees, that my husband and I signed up for a tree climbing class in Oregon. We spent one night sleeping in the tree boats, like in the slide that Preston showed of his daughter. Granted, we weren’t 300 feet up in a redwood (more like 30 feet up in an oak) but it was still awesome!

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