The Richmond Observer – COLUMN: If the old oak tree could speak

Here, in the South, many majestic hundred-year-old oaks still dot our landscapes. If not hampered by storms or man, these old oak trees can live for hundreds of years. Why, some have lived to be a thousand years old.

Oak trees provide shade, wood products, oxygen to the atmosphere, erosion control, and even acorns for us and the animals.

One of these hardy oaks has been on our property for as long as I can remember. Has it been planted as a seedling? I have my doubts, but it probably comes from a single acorn that a squirrel has buried in years past. It does not stand in our yard but on the edge of a dune swamp.

In the 1940s, my grandparents needed a tobacco dryer near their fields. They believed that building the barn next to the big oak tree would help provide needed shade for farm workers during the hot summer months. They didn’t realize what else the great oak tree had to offer.

Next to the barn and under the oak tree was the large reservoir of oil which fed the burners inside the barn. Well I remember years ago Mr. Jack Swink drove his oil truck down the long dirt road to fill our barrel with oil. He and I had the most interesting conversations as he filled the tank in the shade of the tree.

I would always ask him, “Mr. Swink, do you think you will have a hard time driving up Tobacco Hill with your tanker?” “

You see, there was a steep hill between my grandparents’ house and the tobacco kiln. The road up the hill was pure sand and had deep ruts caused by the passage of heavy tobacco sleds.

Mr. Swink would always tell me, “JA, I’m going to back up against that oak tree and have a good start running and go straight up that hill.” And he did too.

Over the years, more than one, and even mules, would rest and cool off in the shade of the old oak tree. Why if this tree could talk, it could tell you how I almost set the barn on fire with firecrackers. It could even be about the time I sat under its branches dipping my foot in kerosene because I accidentally shot myself in the foot with a .22 rifle. He might even have shed a tear when I had the old tobacco barn razed because it was collapsing.

Over the years, I could find myself sitting under the old oak tree thinking about how to solve some of life’s problems. Looks like the old tree would stand and listen to my every thought.

A year ago, when I had the wood cut there, the loggers asked me if I wanted to cut down the big oak. A quick “No sir” came out of my mouth! Why would it be like shooting down an old friend who had been there for me over the years.

Over the years, the old oak tree has provided shade to the banks of our farm pond and has even shaded several pigsties. Its acorns were shared with the pigs and it is not known how many squirrels feasted in and around the big oak tree.

Today, as I walk around the farm, I can orient myself from the search for the old oak because it is the tallest tree in the area.

The old oak tree is only one among millions and millions of things that the Good Lord has blessed us on this earth. You see, everything, even a tree, has a purpose, whether we recognize it or not.

JA Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time”, co-author of “Just Passing Time Together” and has just published his new book, “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories”, all of which can be purchased locally or on Amazon . Contact him at This e-mail address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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