The Witness Tree
My witness tree was hiding in plain sight, not 100 feet from one of the half-dozen benches and picnic tables that line the park's winding central pavement. My arm span--fingertip to fingertip--is six feet, and I could reach just halfway around the great trunk. A twelve-foot circumference means its diameter is almost four. Using a growth-ring count from several nearby chain-sawn windfalls, I make it to be about 150 years old, a Civil War sapling.
It is not a beautiful tree, but old and wondrous with a hardscrabble, woods-wise look about it. An oak, to judge from the leaves and acorns; a white oak from its somewhat corky and layered gray bark. Though hidden among shrubs and younger trees, it looks legendary standing there, the kind of tree in fairy tales where children who are lost in woods encounter devilish limbs that twist and curl around to grasp them. Such a tree would have been treacherous to plank out with the mill power of the nineteenth century, since its low and gnarled branches might easily have jammed a spinning blade. Frost's tree escaped the lumberman by being deeply wounded; I suspect this one was spared to avoid trouble at the mill.
A gentle mound drifts up and away from the trunk's base following a rusting wire farm fence. It took only a few pokes with a stick to reveal the trove of fieldstones under a hundred years of soft forest cover. Their rounded edges, colors, and jewelry patterns reveal the travel polish of an origin hundreds of miles to our north.