the oracle tree

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. It’s about the Oracle Tree on the Sandstone Island Trail at Charleston Lake Provincial Park. And no, that’s not an official name — but simply one that seems to fit this venerable old tree. While hiking, we’ve stopped to visit it many times, and I’ve photographed it in all seasons. Although I’ve come to know the tree quite well, it seems to harbor a distinct air of arcadian mystery.

The Oracle Tree is an immense Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) with a canopy that, as it leafs out, overshadows everything beneath. Most of the young maples within its radius are slender and not too leafy — no doubt being rather starved for light. In autumn, the huge tree often retains its leaves longer than many trees in the surrounding woods. Its smaller acolytes seem to benefit from this protection, with the entire stand of maples lingering like a summery-green island for a few days beyond that of their autumn-leaved neighbours.

So, what is the wisdom of the Oracle Tree? What secrets are hidden away within? I did a bit of looking around on the web and found that most sources state the maximum lifespan of the Sugar Maple to be about 250 to 300 years. Surely this old maple would have been around for at least two centuries, if not more. It seems likely that this tree was standing well before the coming of the family of settlers who attempted to farm the rocky soil — their dwelling now reduced to nothing more than an overgrown stone foundation. Perhaps, in its youth, the native peoples of the region passed it by on their way to the high look-out over the lake, or the nearby rock shelter.

Upon one’s approach, the most conspicuous feature of this tree is a large, rounded opening leading to a cavity within the trunk. In fact, this feature is what led me to regard this maple as the Oracle Tree — the cavity reminding me of a bottomless well, or some other mysterious natural phenomenon that might have had mystical significance to a culture. In another age, I can picture someone leaving offerings at this tree in exchange for luck, advice, or a piece of knowledge. I may not be the only one to think such a thing as, during a visit in midsummer two or three years ago, I found a thick handful of very long green grass draped over the edge of the opening. There was no grass of this type growing in the vicinity, so someone or something carried it from some distance to place it there. I find it a little difficult to believe that it was deposited there by a bird or mammal. For now, it seems the offering will remain another secret safely kept by the Oracle Tree.

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4 Responses to “the oracle tree”

  1. Via Negativa » Blog Archive » Festival of the Trees 1 Says:

    […] Bev, at Burning Silo, writes about an ancient sugar maple that has come to think of as the Oracle Tree. […]

  2. Burning Silo » Blog Archive » the wolf tree Says:

    […] This tree also has a most interesting burl not too far above the ground. The burl has grown where a limb must have once broken away. It’s rather a bizarre one. I’d have to say it’s almost brain-like in shape and even in some of the grain patterning (see below – click on image for larger view). I regard old trees such as the above and the oracle tree Wolf maple at Charleston Lake, as repositories of history and perhaps the natural wisdom of the forest, so I kind of like the idea of an ancient tree with a large brain, don’t you? […]

  3. tomi Says:

    It is beautiful!!!

  4. Strideo Says:

    I enjoyed your musing on the tree, very interesting. n_n