Musings: Mystery Of The Oak Leaf

I’ve seen oak leaves, mixed with what are predominantly maple leaves, in the pastures, and have wondered about their provenance. To my knowledge, there are no oak trees here, though I’ve seen them at nearby parks and other properties. So where, exactly, were these leaves coming from?

At first, I thought that they might be blowing in from a neighboring property, but they’d need to travel quite a distance to land where I was finding them. More realistically, they could only be coming from a short distance away. But where?

Periodically, I walk the boundaries of our land and mentally catalog the new flora that I see, such as sumac saplings, black walnuts likely sprouted from a squirrel’s buried treasure trove, elderberry bushes under the fencing (where birds “planted” them), yucca bushes, the distinctives shape of mulberry tree leaves. In the years that we’ve lived on our farm, I had not seen an oak.

Why would I want an oak tree? For the wine you can make from its leaves? Perhaps. But, more importantly, for the acorns produced by the oak are an important part of the “mast” consumed by the wild deer and other animals that frequent our property.

I’ve been all over the property, foraging for useful plants, harvesting berries, flowers, roots, and leaves. I’ve waded into brushy areas and stretched precariously over the small stream that bisects the back pastures, and though I saw many young maples, never an oak.

Plenty of maple leaves around here

But the oak leaves continued to appear each fall, as though issuing a challenge: find me. I do love solving a mystery, and failing to do so really only means that I temporarily move on to another mystery – returning to solve the “unsolved” one at another time.

I kept looking for the source of those leaves each year, without success. Finally, though, that oak tree revealed itself – it must have grown large enough to appear among the assorted bushes and trees on the bank of the stream. Surrounded by all that camouflaging vegetation, it was difficult to identify; when the other plants’ leaves dropped, there it was.

That oak tree continues to grow and, as far as I can tell, is the only one on our property. Each time I see oak leaf among the many fallen maple leaves now, I look toward the area where the tree grows and think there you are. Someday, it will (hopefully) produce acorns to feed the deer and perhaps even seed a small stand of oaks. And, when that tree is flush with green leaves in their prime, I may pick some to make a batch of wine.