The Great Oak: Sacrifice and Liberation


Very reluctantly, and with much deliberation, we had an ancestral black oak felled where we’re living in the Little House (RV) at Bearhaven meadow. We considered where else we might move it to minimize the “human sacrifice zone,” Robyn’s term for wild land modified for human use. Everywhere else seemed worse — more trees to fell, no access to sun for solar or the water lines.

The great oak had a strong lean over the Little House. We thought it might demolished the back end (and potentially Robyn) if it came down. In summer 2009 we had five ancestral oaks come down with seemingly no provocation, so we knew anything was possible. On the other hand, it might last for another 50 years. This one already was dying, its branches laden with mistletoe. Major decay on the backside increased the possibility it’d fall sooner rather than later.

I drew this Great Oak the night before, celebrating its rough-textured bark and calligraphic branches. A skillful sawyer brought it down with minimum damage to standing trees. Once felled, we saw it was tall enough to demolish the entire RV. The decay went deeper than we’d seen while it stood.

Who it liberated is an even larger Great Oak, healthier and much taller. Certainly both of these trees were tended by the Maidu people long before European settlers arrived 160 years ago. A grinding rock and nearby spring are testaments to their long likely-seasonal presence. In their prime, they probably provided a bounty of nuts for food: black oak acorns are high in fat and protein. Now this elder will provide prime firewood to warm the existing settlers.

What appears to be loss may also be a gain. The tough question is finding the balance, limiting the human sacrifice zones — the human impact — while maintaining habitat for all the non-humans. Like our visiting Friend Frog who hung out beside “little house” for a few damp days, finding a cozy warm hideaway inside a plastic package.



  1. Tom Fredericks says:

    Hello Janaia and Robyn,
    The “loss” of the ancester oak is only “one of several possible futures”, (to quote from Fringe), as you noted. What I didn’t hear you say was that you planted several new trees for our descendants decendants.
    Living here in the Siskiyous of southern Oregon, also in a forest, I see where the trees are sprouting many seedlings everywhere possible. I’m certain your forest is equally productive, (simply not noted.)
    When I visited Lone Bobcat Road..2005?…I had collected a pocket full of healthy acorns I gathered while waiting for a ride, which i planted here and there near your guest house. (probably never told you, and the deer love ’em)

  2. Jhennaefer Azalea says:

    A chuckle – heart-touching…this little being. As well as its choice of shelter. And, poignant is the lovely drawing (of) the Great Oak – given its impending sacrifice.

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