Those of us fortunate enough to grow up in the country
or in a home with trees around might have had a treehouse or
favorite tree where we could shinny up and sit in the lower crotch.
I had such a tree out on Baseline Road behind our house
in Doc Corsons pasture south of Genoa. It was a giant oak
with branches that spread for hundreds of feet. Squirrel and
bird nests could be seen in its branches. Docs draft horses
sought its shade on simmering summer days.
My father, Vernon, nailed some slats on the backside of
the tree so I could climb up to the lowest branch to enjoy the
panoramic view. This included the Kishwaukee River, which ran
near our home.
Now a half-century later, I have found another favorite
tree to enjoy, this one in a pasture at the corner of Lovell
and Quigley roads south of Sycamore. But a No Trespassing
sign and four horses grazing nearby didnt allow me to get
close to it. However, every time I drive by, I am struck by its
longevity and think of all the storms it has survived.
Contacting Al Roloff, DeKalb County Forest Preserve District
natural resources manager, I learned it is a Bur Oak, very common
to these parts. Although I guesstimated it must be
at least 200 years old, he said you would have to measure the
circumference of the trunk or bore into it to determine the age.
Surmising it might have begun from an acorn dropped there by
a passing bird in 1818, it could be a bicentennial tree for Illinois
200th year celebration.
This towering old Bur Oak stands like a sentinel near
the corner of Lovell and Quigley roads south of Sycamore.Second photo shows the even larger and older Oak in
the 200 block of Rolfe Road, DeKalb. (Schrader photos for Shaw
One can even fantasize that Chief Shabbona and his band
of Potawatomis might have passed by that tree, pausing to rest
in its shade and collect some acorns for sustenance later.
Now getting back to Roloff, he said, I dont
recall having a favorite tree as a child, but I sure did like
the fruit on the Mulberry trees that grew in the local park.
I marveled at all the cotton that would blow off
the Cottonwood tree in my grandmothers yard. I loved the
aroma of the flowers on the old Catalpa tree in my parents
yard. I couldnt wait for the pears to ripen on the tree
behind my uncle Hermans house. I took great joy in hours
spent cracking the hickory and walnuts from under the trees on
uncle Freds farm. My friends and I strengthened our scrawny
arms climbing from the low-hanging branches to near the top of
the Sugar Maple in our neighbors yard
Speaking of giant oaks, I visited probably the oldest one
in DeKalb this week in the 200 block of Rolfe Road. It has a
plaque at the base stating City of DeKalb Historic Tree
Award In Honor of Dr. James C. and Dorothy S. Ellis, 1998.
They were the original owners of that property. Todays
owner told me that the city looks after it, even installing cables
in its branches to prevent them from breaking under their own
weight. An earlier giant Oak on Prospect Street near First Street
died a few years ago and had to be taken down. Roger Keys was
lucky enough to get a portion of the tree which he said could
be 300 or more years old. A cross-section of it can now be seen
in front of the Glidden Homestead barn.
Some tree stories arent as pleasant. When I was in
fourth grade in Waterman, my cousin Joel Thompson and I ventured
north on Route 23 from his home in the old Waterman Airport tower
building. We stopped at a grove of Catalpa trees near a branch
of the Somonauk Creek (on land now owned by twins Craig and Curt
Rice). Joel, being the daring one, decided to climb up one of
the trees, and fell on his head to the ground. A big gash bled
profusely and I could only help with a handkerchief. He could
still walk so we hurried back to the house where his mother Evelyn
Thompson rushed him to the doctor (may have been Doc Purdy, but
I cant say for sure). I wonder if Joel recalls that incident.
His career was spent in the US Navy and he now lives somewhere
in the San Diego area, according to our cousin Audrey Cooper.
There are other trees I have admired, like the Banyan tree
whose branches cover a whole block in Lahaina, Hawaii, planted
in 1873, or the giants in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National
Park, or in Muir Woods north of San Francisco. I have been fortunate
to commune with them up close and personal.
I will close with a few snippets of a Joyce Kilmer poem that
we had to memorize in a junior high English class taught by Audrey
Soli in Genoa:
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain
and so on (only my old classmate Janice (Gerlt) Campbell
can probably still recite it).