Climbing in the King of the forest

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15 years 5 months ago #132716 by TreeTramp
Climbing in the King of the forest was created by TreeTramp
Words cannot describe the feelings you get sometimes while you are aloft but as I know whoever reads this will be kindred souls. When you see the word “Kansas”, an image of vast empty prairies or fields of wheat come to mind and not majestic Burr Oaks. I live on the east side of the state that touches Missouri and has the tree rich rolling hills of the Ozark Plateau. Hardwoods are common everywhere and some have survived for centuries. The oldest one was lucky enough to be in an area where the city claimed the acreage around. They just recently cleared a nature trail and set up benches along so all could hike the paths and in just a few steps it takes you back into the primordial forest.

Ten years ago while seeking the old ones I used a list prepared by a local arborist that tagged trees throughout the city with his list of champions. It listed this old one as not only the city wide champion but the Kansas state champion Burr Oak. You know how excited I was to find it was so close to me. I always have my gear in my truck and as I tour the city and find a tree that I can climb up I go. I told myself that I would only have time to take a walk about and check it out. It was a hot and sticky day and my schedule had an afternoon appointment that took me right by the site. The forest was dense with understory bushes and trees that were covered in vines. A mix of grape, creeper and poison ivy wove a tangled web above the dense buck brush but onward I tread. From a distance you can see the crown of this Oak spreading its huge limbs above them all. No nature trail was there ten years ago but following the game trails and then a foot path leads me to the tree. I knew I was not the first one to hike deep into the woods to view this giant but to me it was like finding Eldorado.

From the ground you have a hard time seeing thru the limbs but every once and awhile you can see the immense structure and it is huge. The trunk is massive and was also the largest oak in the state. I wanted to see how much effort it would take to set a pilot line shooting thru this jungle. Many attempts were made and after considerable time and effort I finally got a line over a limb and isolated back together on the ground. Well do I leave a pull line for later or do I pull it out and do this all over again the next time? Next time had to be soon because I really wanted to climb this tree right now. Lucky for me that when I called my appointment they were able to move it up and I could come over right then leaving me with lots of time after my appointment to climb later. I left my throwline somewhat hidden and when I returned I had a full load of gear on my back.

At that time I only had the original heavy gray rope sleeves that I make to protect the tree. I had to use three of them to be sure I had enough to completely go over the huge limb. Nothing in this old giant is small. One side had a rotten limb break out and fall that was larger than I could hug. The limb was huge and the trunk had a nasty looking rotten spot where it had grown wrapped around a pair of even larger limbs for years. The sign says it is the oldest living tree in the state and this breakage had to have happened years ago.

It warps my mind to image years ago when this tree was just a sapling the area was still a part of the great native American nation that was claimed to be owned by France. It was there when the colonists revolted against King George and was there when Lewis and Clark paddled nearby. And now I happened to come by and attempt to embrace its highest boughs.

Climbing up thru the jungle I encountered obstacles that I had never faced before. The understory snagged my ropes and fouled my lines. The vines tugged at me and the ground would hide anything I placed there. The effort was greatly rewarded. As I emerged above the ground clutter and finally got a good close look of the structure it made me stop in place with awe. Huge limbs and branches covered with giant leaves shaded me from the melting sun and the welcome breeze gave some relief as I was drenched in sweat and covered in torn vine flakes. But onward and upward until I was able to get to that first limb and lay down for awhile.

The view of the sky while on my back lounging was nourishment for my soul. The sounds and sights of the wildlife roaming about was a symphony to accompany the awesome vista. Once recovered and I was able to advance to the summit I was rewarded with a view of the whole forest. As far as I could see the woods were alive and I was just a tiny speck in this enormous forest as far as I could see.

Nearby on a dead limb that I was careful to not disturb there was an interesting growth at the point where the dead limb was attached to a live section. The limb was alive for about the first 10 feet and then at a spot where it forked started the dead limb that reached out for another 20 feet. Balanced precariously it had weathered for years and inspection shown that the live limb had tried to heal itself as the bark had many folds for cambium growing around the dead stub. On the live limb above was a dead little branch that was loose to the touch. I wanted to stand on the live limb and the dead little branch would be knock away when I moved over there so I twisted it out and dropped it to the ground. As I examined the knot hole I was surprised to see a red ant. Not those tiny little piss ants that couldn’t carry a crumb but a real big carpenter ant that had a set of pinchers that could wreck a Buick. And he was not alone, soon after I had opened the knot hole and seen the one he was joined by his posse. Hundreds of clones came to the party and spread their ranks over the whole limb. Where minutes before there was not a single sign of any insects became a literal ant farm crawling with workers looking for a fight and taking on any comers. I was glad that I was yards away on another limb safely away from them. It is doubtful that they could do me any harm but the sheer numbers was impressive. The limb that they were in had to be completely hollow all the way back to the trunk just to be able to house so many of them. I wished them well and moved away.

I wanted to go see where that huge limb was once connected so I was able to move the other way around and it was worth the effort. The fork where the limbs connected had formed a pocket that water must have collected and over the years decay set in. The two main leading limbs had choked the dead limb and caused it to become soft and weak. Sometime in the last 10 to 20 years gravity took its toll and the old oak shed one mighty big piece of wood. The part left was filled with what maybe ant tunnels and I am not sure which come first; the ants or the decay. Anyway the insides of this huge trunk must be hollow and filled with all kinds of ant colonies.

As I watched the sun set on the horizon the view was framed by towering limbs opposite of the branch I was laying on. Filled with renewing sunshine and my batteries charged to must have hiked out of the forest but can’t remember if my feet every touching the ground.

So there I was again under the canopy of this old one on a cool fall day. The last ten years have been hard on it and another huge limb has fallen. The limb that once held the ant farm was lying at my feet filled nearly hollow and housing some kind of burrowing ground squirrel nest. Nature invented recycling long before we coined the word. The whole south side that consisted of three massive limbs looked dead and only one limb soaring up on the north side had any evidence of health. This time with the understory bare it only took two shots to get my line in and in minutes I was aloft. This time watching the sunset was a different feeling, one of completion. The cycle of life for us all is always in motion. This would be my last time aloft embracing this old one out of respect for its condition and out of respect for it age.

Nearby there is its younger offspring that is healthy and alive. Most likely one of its acorns planted by a friendly squirrel sometime 200 years ago has really come of age. From now on I will be happy to just hug the old one as I walk by, probably on my way to climb in its heir to the forest crown.

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