I seem to be writing on trees these days. This morning, I happened to notice this photo I took a month ago, rainbow colored leaves of the white oak. I want to share it just because it is beautiful. May there be beauty in your life today, and may you have the grace to notice it!
In the spring, I learned that acorns of the white oak were less bitter–and were more widely used for food–than those of the red oak. At that time, I was walking through thousands of acorns in our neighborhood, and thinking how great it would be to use them for food. I also walked through thousands of dried-up oak leaves, but never saw any white oaks. You can tell the difference because the leaves of the red oak are pointy and the leaves of the white oak have rounded lobes.
This fall, there were barely any acorns. Oaks do that. They choose certain years (mast years) to collaboratively put on a full production of acorns, and others years, not so much. This may be a rough winter for the squirrels, who grew their families large on last year’s bounty. But imagine my surprise when I saw these leaves on the pavement during my morning walk. You might have to look closely.
Amidst the pointy ones are some small round-lobed leaves. The tree is about two blocks from my house, a smaller oak right next to a big red oak, standing in someone’s front yard. I am going to guess that it might be a white oak. I look forward to the next mast year for acorns, to see if I can distinguish them from each other, and maybe try making acorn flour.
Meanwhile, this was a beautiful autumn for oak trees. Usually, it seems, the oak leaves hang on the tree and go from green to brown without much fanfare. But two weeks ago, they were a translucent gold to rival the maples. Today, we had our first snow storm, but the snow is spotted with oak leaves everywhere, pulled from their branches by the wind to land on top of the snow.
The mild weather has revealed old oak leaves and acorns all over the ground on the trail by the brook, as well as the back of our yard. The trees in our yard are young, but there are many old ones in the neighborhood. In the fall there were literally thousands of acorns underfoot all along the streets and the trail. It got me thinking about acorns as a food source–roasted and ground into flour.
Unfortunately, I finally learned that all of these neighborhood acorns are from the northern red oak, whose Wabanaki name referred to its bitter acorn. Acorns from the white oak and the burr oak were much preferred for eating because they are sweeter. Still, I am thrilled to know their names. All this from the book Notes on a Lost Flute, by Kerry Hardy, including a helpful diagram of the shape of each type of leaf and acorn. After seeing the pictures, I paid attention to all the oak leaves along my walk–all red oak. Simply put, the red oak leaves have pointed edges, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Sometimes it helps to simplify–there are actually about 600 oak species overall, and 8 in Maine.
Researching further, I learned in A Short History of Trees in Portland, that there are stands of white oak in Baxter Woods and Deering Oaks park. Now I am delighted to imagine walking there in the spring to see if I can find those trees. In the meantime, another storm is on the way, and it will soon all be covered again in a foot of snow.