Environmental columnist Frances Lamberts is taking a brief hiatus from writing. She has selected some of her favorite columns to republish. This one ran July 17, 2007.
Its role in the region’s and state’s history being so large a part of Jonesborough’s cultural heritage, preserving and showcasing its structures reflects this sense of history and makes up one of the pillars of its economic life. Like the storytellers and musicians who, with ballads and song and story enrich our lives personally and socially, so do the Town’s old buildings and streets, trees and alleys tell of its life and past.
The oldest of the Town’s current residents, the oak that towers over Main Street from Mr. Shanks property would seem to have been a centenarian long before white pioneers established a settlement here. It has braved many calamities no doubt, from drought periods or fire, lightning, storms and other events during its four-century tenure. It has seen presidents and other notable figures come and go, clashes or alternating parades by soldiers “in the gray” and those “in the blue” during the country’s civil war, and the large-scale human deaths during last century’s cholera epidemic. By age and stature, the Shanks oak would seem to rank with others of national heritage value, such as Donald Peattie wrote of in 1948 in his Natural History of Trees. Of the Hendrickson oak, for example, Peattie said: “In the probably life span of this tree have been born, have mightily wrought, and died, William Penn and Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson, Peter the Great, Napoleon, and Beethoven. Thrones have crumbled and new empires arisen; great ideas have been born and great pictures painted, and the world revolutionized by science and invention; and still no man can say how many centuries this Oak will endure or what nations and creeds it may outlive.”
Indeed among our eastern trees, Quercus alba is the king of kings for resilience and longevity. Consider as an example Teterow, the Tri-Cities German sister city in Schleswig-Holstein, among whose prized visitor attractions are the Oaks of Ivenachen, a remnant grove from an earlier, large hunting-estate forest. The oaks were 800 year giants when Field Marshall von Bluecher hunted among them, whose Prussian army aided Duke Wellington in Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. Thousand years old now and their root zones cordoned off for protection, their enormous crowns yet form a “mansion of shade and greenery,” as Peatty would say, their mighty arms still “benignantly extended above the generations of men who [pass and have passed] beneath them.”
So should visitors to Jonesborough and Town residents continue to enjoy the sight and shade and green mansion of the Shanks oak. One is encouraged that the Town is providing tree-care assistance, for protection of people and property and to maintain this oak as long as root-zone paving and other adversities of urban setting will allow. It is to be hoped that the conservation easement being offered by Mr. Shanks can be implemented soon and this heritage tree, witness and monument to our Town as much as its other historic structures, effectively preserved.