The Shawnee News-Star Weekender January 18 2020 Becky Emerson Carlberg While mulling over how to start this little story, I noted the jars on the table were quite international.  Mixed berry preserves had come from France, lingonberry fruit spread was Swedish, England sent orange marmalade and raw honey was produced outside Tulsa.  Fresh bananas have […]

The Shawnee News-Star Weekender January 18 2020

Downed Oaks

Becky Emerson Carlberg

While mulling over how to start this little story, I notedthe jars on the table were quite international. Mixed berry preserves had come from France, lingonberry fruit spread wasSwedish, England sent orange marmalade and raw honey was produced outside Tulsa.  Fresh bananas have been arriving from CostaRica, Guatemala, the Honduras and Ecuador. The avocados are Mexican.  Thebouquet of Columbian flowers on the Lazy Susan were grown at a farm which was amember of the Rain Forest Protection Coalition.

Oklahoma needs a Cross Timbers Conservation Alliance to protectthe ancient forest.  Cross Timbersextends from central Texas through central Oklahoma into three counties inKansas.  The ancient forest is the borderbetween grasses of the treeless Great Plains and the forests of the easternUS.  The scrubby dense woodlands withnative grass prairies are homes to countless animals and plants.  Countless because few surveys have been doneto accurately record what still lives here. Cross Timbers has been under attackfor decades, section after section being removed. 

The X-Timbers Alliance should start with county roadsides.  These are the only bits of nature most folks ever notice while on their way to work, school, stores, malls, ballgames or restaurants.  Each county shapes what their populace sees by how they maintain their waysides.  Trees, wildflowers and native grasses are at the mercy of mowers and tree trimmers. Unpaved, Garrett's Lake Road used to be flanked by thick stands of Coreopsis flowers.  Each bright yellow bloom had a burgundy center.  After the road was asphalted, the sides were in the control of the mowers. It took a few years, but the wildflowers were obliterated and replaced by grass, which offered little beauty to the eye and nothing to pollinators.

Cold Cherub

For decades I walked by this group of thirty to forty-foot-tallpost and blackjack oaks.  My tree friendswere descendants of the oak and redcedar forests that had grown here forcenturies. Elders remember dense groves of oaks with huge trunks and broadcanopies no longer in existence.  My oakswere stump sprouts from other ancient roots, many over 600 years old.  Their own roots had become intertwined.  Dark twisted branches draped down around thetrunks.  Birds and butterflies hungaround these trees, flittering around the base and perimeter of the thick greenleaves.  Just a few weeks ago I tookpictures of mushrooms growing by the roots. 

Lighthouse in the snow

Although they stood above the ditch and anchored the soil, lastweek the trees were ripped out, along with other trees.  Contractors were hired to strip away plantlife and wetlands along the four mile stretch of country road before it wasrepaved. They came with powerful earth and tree moving equipment. No new or oldtree was spared. Nature was loaded wholesale into dump trucks and disposed of.

The county insisted on a fifteen foot right-of-way.  Not all OK counties do this. The fifteen-foot right-of-way is not mandatory.  Why weren't nature organizations told of the pending clearance? Native plants could have been rescued.  Why weren't the trees chipped into mulch or cut into firewood to be made available to the public?  It is still winter.  What a waste.

Public safety was the other reason given for the excessiveright-of-way denaturization. Considering the number of vehicles I saw lastMonday morning racing in dense fog with no headlights, saving the public fromthemselves might be the issue.  Woe be toany animal that gets in their way, limited visibility or not. Wearingreflective gear while walking along these country roads?  To some drivers you become a target like theanimals.

My family of oaks were stacked in the ditch waiting forburial in a landfill. On the road in front laid a dead opossum.  The innocent animal had lost its familiarlandmarks while trying to figure a way off the road and was run over. 

Elms, hackberries, cottonwoods and redcedars were removed from the roadside and piled into large mounds in one hillside pasture, opening up more grazing land for the rancher's herd.  Now the land will dry out quickly in winds and dry conditions, but the new fence should be fine.  Gaping holes in exposed clay where tree roots once dwelled will only add to additional erosion during our more frequent torrential spring rains, if they come.  The butterflies and moths I saw each spring fluttering around the oaks and pools of water are history. 

Hungry Birds

While attempting to eradicate another species, the fact isignored that the redcedar is also native, especially east of I-35.  Within their natural environment, the treeslive harmoniously alongside their fellow compatriots.  Old daguerreotype photos of western Oklahomaactually show large red cedars.  Hugebeams and substantial logs have been located in deteriorating houses and barns,demonstrating those redcedars had been there a long time.  When people mishandle the land, the redcedar canconcentrate on establishing its own robust heat tolerant forest as our climatewarms.  Whatever the cause, the lastdecade has been the hottest on record. 

The beautiful tree canopy over the road is now gone. Treesand their shade reduce hot temperatures and add humidity during heat waves. Didyou know trees protect our water?  Theleaves break the force of rain, the bark channels the water and roots hold thesoil while absorbing water, limiting runoff. 

Winter blooming Nasturtiums

Your health benefits if you just look at trees.  Alleviation of stress, improvement of moods, increase of attention spans, prevention or treatment of disease all are enhanced by being around trees.  Give St. Anthony's a break and go commune with nature.  Try shinrin-yoku"forest bathing.  Slowly walk through a forest, park or field.  Stop and close your eyes, smell and taste the air, listen to the sounds around you.  Shinrin-yoku originated in Japan 40 years ago to deal with high stress levels.  Nature therapy works.  Stress hormones are reduced, blood pressure and heart rates are lowered.  Trees release antimicrobial chemicals called phytoncides which boost the immune system.  It is the aroma, the gift of the forest.

Trees are lifelines for wildlife and birds which requirecover for protection, food and nests.  Rareand common birds are in steep decline. Over 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970.  Seven hundred million birds in 31 species,including migratory birds, meadowlarks and American sparrows.  Researchers report this only tells us what hashappened up to now.  It's up to us todecide what to do next.

Goodbye old friends. After the dusting of snow had melted, Iwatched as the oaks were hauled away in a long articulated truck.  The desecration of beneficial species.  One which supported birds, animals, fungi,lichens and underground microorganisms and provided protection, offered shadeand limited erosion.  The darned oaksjust didn't have enough sense to tell the rancher to put the fence in front ofthem, not behind. 

I hope the county will sow wildflower and native grass seedsinto the open wounds left by the removal of nature. It would be a new start ofawesome.