scrub oak

Karyn noticed that, of all the trees that ended existence by being toppled by 100 mph gusts on Thursday, none of them was a scrub oak. A few larger deciduous trees snapped or lost branches, and many of the conifers, especially spruces, lost their toe holds in the dirt, uprooted and overturned.* Scrub oak, or more properly Gambel Oak, are native and natural in these parts, and they coat the slopes of the mountains from which the strong east gusts emanate when these kinds of storms make their way through. They are short, narrow barreled, cowering. A trail through these oak trees will feel like a narrow tunnel, the arms of these trees often reaching, bending over to shade the traveler for brief stretches. The trunks and branches are modest and unlikely, ignoring geometry lessons and common sense, instead making severe bends in random places. The leaves are not the glorious red or yellow in fall, but a burnt orange; from a distance you can watch this creep its way down the mountain and into the valley as autumn plods along. They can be described by adverbials that have consonants stuck in the back of your throat: craggy and haggard and scraggy. Without even knowing what these words mean, you know that they describe those modest trees, their branches practically shaping those “g’s” on their own. They grow from hard acorns scattered on the dry soil, or shoot up from unlikely roots that keep themselves hidden underground. They don’t compete with the majesty of the maple or the pine, but they remain after the windstorm; they survive occasional caterpillar infestations; they support your weight as you hang from their misdirected branches; they reemerge after fire. They plant themselves in between the quartzite boulders on the sun baked east slope, hold on tight and endure.

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*I can’t confirm this for sure, but I am guessing that these unnaturally placed trees in a high desert climate were aided by extra irrigation, and thus had shorter roots and extra growth. Even though they were healthy and had endured decades, they weren’t set up to succeed. Those who took care of them and aided them in their unnatural placement in growth were also responsible for their demise.

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