Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Real Big Tree

Craving a change of scenery, our morning hike/dog walk sometimes takes us to Richland Park. There's a nice paved trail around the ball fields and playgrounds for muddy mornings. We prefer the wooded trails though and one morning we found an impressive tree.

I love trees. I wouldn't say that just any tree does it for me. There's a certain imposing size or branch pattern that captures my attention. The first tree I loved was a gigantic locust at my childhood home. "Locusts don't normally get that big," my dad told me. It had gnarled branches. Their silhouette in the evening sky would have made a perfect mystery novel cover photo.

Sadly, my locust-love was cut down in the year 2000 or so. I kept one of the branches for a while, until I decided I really am at risk of becoming a hoarder.

The sign, "This Way to Penn Tree" doesn't give much detail, but a tree that has a name is something I'll always want to see. The walk, ten minutes if you're a real slow poke, is easy. It's a wide mowed trail through otherwise uninteresting southwestern PA woods. 

The path opens into a clearing outlined with split rail fence. There's a bench and a stone marker. "Penn Tree - It Took Root in 1598," proclaims the stone. How do they know that?

Penn Tree has lost branches that are bigger than most oaks in Pennsylvania. It is massive even though it evidently split in two at some point. It's gnarled and knotty. You can tell that it's seen some stuff.

Research at home revealed that the Internet doesn't have much to say about Penn Tree. An article in a local newspaper ends abruptly and once refers to the mighty oak as "the pine tree" instead of Penn Tree. So I'm left with a lot of questions. Has someone counted the rings on the broken part of the tree? Was it planted by someone that kept a record? Is this 419 number just a guess?

I may never find out, but at the very least, that's a real big tree.