The valley I live in is known as “the banana belt of the Adirondacks.” The weather is generally milder than that of the mountains which surround us. While they do not at higher elevations, red oaks grow here.
The land surrounding my house, however, is devoid of oaks. There are a few down the road and there are large stands in the area, but none here. I noticed there absence here when I was a newbie wildlife rehabilitator with my first litter of baby squirrels to raise. To gather food for the weaning babies, I picked up any acorn I passed during my morning runs, stuffed it into a pocket, and wished it and many more were in my own yard.
My desire for oak trees deepened when I learned that oaks support many insects. Although tree care companies call them “pests,” the caterpillars that feed on oak trees are in turn eaten by birds. Caterpillars are the main food of baby songbirds, who require more protein than adults. The use of pesticides against leaf-eating caterpillars and a general shift to landscaping with imported ornamental trees, that neither local bugs nor wildlife will eat, has reduced the number of insects available for the baby birds and has contributed to the decline of songbirds.
During the last few years, to make the yard more wildlife friendly, I have stopped planting anything but natives around my house. Last year I added winged sumac, winterberry, and silky dogwood shrubs, all of which provide food for birds and pollinators. This year, my desire for oaks prompted an order with our state conservation department’s tree farm. In the spring, I will be getting red oaks to plant.
My wish for oaks is also driven by a new spiritual exploration. I recently began a dive into Druidry, inspired by my British ancestry. The Druids are associated with and revere oak trees. Part of my candidacy work includes planting and nurturing a tree. I cannot think of one more appropriate than a native red oak.