Here’s what the Pepe family has done to take care of their 200-300-year-old, 107-foot-tall, 22-foot-around
- Cleared away competing trees and undergrowth,
allowing the oak’s branches to spread freely. That also improved the tree’s balance, so it doesn’t need cables for support.
grounding wires to protect against lightning.
- Had it regularly inspected and fed by a certified
- Stopped planting row
crops nearby after noticing that herbicide applications curled the
- Patted the tree while purring "Sweet, sweet girl" to it.
Why all the pampering? Because, like giant pumpkins everywhere, this tree is in competition. Since Maryland’s Official State Tree fell in 2002, the Pepes’ oak, described by the prior owner as a "no-account tree getting ready to die", has been identified as the largest in the state and is being considered for Official State Tree status.
So what does this tell us, besides what we already know about the lengths to which people will go to win titles? Maybe that it’s only with lots of human intervention that plants can live so long and grow so well? In the 17 years since the Pepes have owned the tree it’s responded by growing 1.8 feet in circumference and 16 feet in height.
The story of the tree’s impact on the humans who pamper it is an interesting one, too. Growing up in a family of Italian immigrants in Harlem, Victor Pepe became a successful homebuilder in the Washington, D.C. area, all the while living in a high-rise apartment just outside the beltway. But in 1988 he drove to the countryside to cut a Christmas tree and immediately decided to move to the area. He bought 225-acre farm with front
porch view of Sugarloaf Mountain and now he says that buying the farm and nurturing the oak "is the fulfillment of a dream that I couldn’t know was in me." And onward he gushes: "I’m blessed! We have been so blessed"!
All that resonates with me big-time because I frequently plop into a garden chair and worship the vision of another mighty oak, of unknown age and size but damn big. It’s one of 10 white oaks on my property and one of approximately 50 deciduous trees on or over my lot. I counted them but already knew they produce a shitload of leaves for me to rake and dump on the old compost pile every year, a job I finished just this week. Not that I’m complaining. On the contrary, I LOVE the raking! I’d even say I’m blessed!
Here’s the story of the Pepes and their white oak by Susan DeFord in the Washington Post. The photos are of my favorite white oak, as seen from the ground and from my garden chairs.