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No matter where you live, you have seen one.  And I'm betting when you did, you allowed your gaze to linger for awhile.  If you are a camera bug, you may even have pulled over while driving down some road, and shot a picture or two.  Sometimes it is a majestic, old oak tree in the middle of a farmer's field...surrounded by acres of plowed field.  Why did they leave just that one tree?  Surely there must have been many others at some time.

A forest is lush.  Dense.  But while a forest has its own charms, it can sometimes seem impenetrable. Uninviting, even.  A lone tree holds a completely different kind of allure.  It is somehow mysterious.  It's almost magnetic, especially when the cleared land around it is expansive.  You ask yourself how that one tree, and only that tree, managed to escape the axe and survive.  You sometimes may even feel compelled to walk across the field to look at it from a closer perspective.  Stand in its shade.  It provokes contemplation.  The trees in a stand of woods lose their individuality and become almost indistinguishable from one another, at least until fall.  But a lonesome tree?  It calls out to you.  "Look at me.  I'm still here!"

Lone Tree

Growing up in the Midwest, it was a common sight to see a farm that, for whatever reason, was completely cleared and tilled except for one ancient tree.  Sometimes it would be a pasture instead of row crops...but that tree was a constant.  But it is a phenomenon that repeats itself almost everywhere I have lived or travelled through.

The lone tree Panoramic

Once you travel west of the Mississippi River and drive through the Great Plains states, it is almost more remarkable to see these lone giants, when you consider how valuable lumber was back in the 1800's.  Somebody made a considered decision to leave that tree there, regardless of the other uses it could have been put to.

Beautiful lone tree

I've read many theories about why these solitary trees were left, but none of them seem to be satisfactory or definitive.  Perhaps there is no single reason.  Some say that farmers generations ago would leave a single tree for the shade it provided during the day, either for themselves when it was time for a break, or for their draft animals.  Some say that these trees, often, had roots that were tightly wrapped around some granite outcropping underground, and were too hard to remove.  I find that explanation suspect.  I've read that, at one time, there may have been a structure or house near the tree, and it was left for shade.  Or perhaps the particular spot was marginal to begin with...poorly drained or subject to runoff during heavy rains.  

All of those explanations seem plausible to one extent or another...but perhaps the explanation is not nearly so pragmatic.  Perhaps it is rooted in something as impractical as our own sense of aesthetic and natural beauty.  Maybe, after working for years to clear a field of trees, the landowner simply got to the last one standing and didn't have the heart to cut it down.  Maybe he looked at it and saw in that one tree what he could not see in a field full of them...that it was beautiful...and allowed it to remain.

Lone Tree in a Yellow Sea

Whatever the reason, it is a fairly common sight, yet one that never fails to draw and hold my attention.  I wonder how old the tree is.  I wonder what the landscape I am gazing at looked like before.  Who spared this tree, and why?  Did someone once get their first kiss beneath it?  Perhaps it may have shaded someone's gravesite?  How much longer will it remain standing?  If I drive through an area that is still heavily forested, I appreciate the beauty of the landscape, but I don't entertain any of these kinds of thoughts.  

Oregon, where I now live, has plenty of trees, but even here the lone tree isn't hard to come across.  

Lone Tree

Anyone else feel the same attraction and sense of wonder by these loners?  Any thoughts as to why they were left where they were so many years ago?

Originally posted to Keith930 on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 09:08 PM PDT.

Also republished by Appalachian Journal, DKOMA, Headwaters, and Community Spotlight.

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