A Newfound Freedom of a Young Bur Oak
In the midst of a somewhat chaotic work day in Johnson County, with conservation-minded volunteers scrambling in all directions trying to rid the area of as much invasive autumn olive as possible, someone hollers, “I found a bur oak!”
Little had we known in the nearly three hours spent working in the area, stood a lone young bur oak buried in the understory brush that had taken hold of a once- open oak and hickory woodland. It was then that our hard-working group's mindset slightly changed. We changed our thoughts from cutting and removing every shrub in sight to doing everything we possibly could to help this ailing bur oak that was being shaded out to a point that could hardly sustain life. It wasn't loudly announced to the group what exactly we were doing, but it seemed to rather happen naturally, without a second thought. We knew that this special tree needed help, and we gladly offered our tender care.
The young bur oak had likely not seen direct sunlight in several years, just waiting for a chance to thrive in the warm, late summer sun. As the brush was cleared away from the surrounding area, sunlight slowly began to shower the oak. It seemed to gladly welcome the long forgotten sun.
As we stopped to admire the young tree, we couldn't help but notice the hundreds of autumn olive and honeysuckle shrubs that had yet to be removed from the woodland. Time it would take and work it would be, no doubt, but we could all go home with happy hearts, as we knew that we did our part to save and restore a small part of this beautiful oak woodland:, the young bur oak. We believed that our tiny, first step was the start of something much greater. One step, and then a second, and a third…all tiny successes that have the power to change this beautiful landscape we call home.
Giving life to a tree begging for the sun, allowing it to stand tall and mighty atop the hill. A tree given a chance to tower high into the forest canopy, just as its 200 year old brothers have learned to do yards away. A tree given an opportunity to bring life to the landscape, just as its forefathers have done for centuries. It may seem like a small success, simply giving that young bur oak sunlight once more. But a small success in the conservation and land restoration field is one that should not be taken for granted. For it is the culmination of small successes that eventually produce profound results over time. A small step in the grand scale of this world, but a start nonetheless that will someday prove to save it.
If only we could all think this way, we certainly could make quite an impact on this state. We can't and we won't save or restore all the precious natural areas of Iowa in one day, a year, or maybe even a hundred years, but we believe that someday we will get there.
Get out and take a step in the right direction, big or small, a step that can help sustain a healthy, diverse natural world that is undoubtedly in need of a healing hand.
Thoughts from Land Stewardship Assistant, Ryan Schmidt, after a powerful and meaningful volunteer workday that included all of Iowa's five Land Trusts.