The Farm - Bear Creek Wisconsin

On an impulse early one Saturday morning in 2015, I sat down and wrote a brief essay about one of my photographs - The Lunch Tree. This singular oak tree still stands in a field on my family’s dairy farm near Bear Creek, Wisconsin.

I emailed the essay and photograph to Orion magazine’s The Place Where You Live; one of the first things that I read when I open the magazine. The essay acquired traction and I was honored to see it published in the September/October 2015 issue.

What happened next was even more astonishing… I was contacted by Public Radio International (PRI). They often pull essays from the Orion column for the Living on Earth segments that are part of the PRI Environmental News Magazine. I read my essay and was interviewed for an audio recording that aired on July 29, 2016 and again on August 17, 2018.

Here is my photograph of The Lunch Tree, text of the essay (audio version, which is closer to my original than the one edited by Orion) and additional photos that accompany the PRI recording and appear on their website.

The Lunch Tree, Flanagan Family Dairy Farm, Bear Creek, Wisconsin, August 2005

I learned much later, after my brothers had taken over the family dairy farm, that my dad called the solitary white oak in the middle of the field near the creek – the lunch tree.

Before I became a teenager and felt confined by the isolation of the farm and thought that somehow, it was keeping me from participating in the wide world outside, this landscape was my world, as it was for my dad. While I played in the hedgerows between fields, discovering remnant patches of native wild flowers, and ventured down the lane next to the woods until the exciting moment when our house was-out of-sight, my dad was sowing crops for the cows – corn or alfalfa hay – in the broad fields.

Long before my dad farmed the land, someone had chosen to retain that solitary oak tree. It became the place where, at high noon in its shade, dad would take a break from field work, and we would eat our sandwiches and sip water from the red-and-white insulated cooler jug.

Now I live in the city where I find stimulation, and where I work as an artist in a neighborhood that is leafy and green and more wooded than the place where I grew up. When my siblings, nieces and nephews from the farm visit, they are amazed by all of the trees. Such diversity: lining my street are maples, swamp white oaks, river birches, hackberries, and even a few elms. Neighbors up and down our block chip in to inoculate them against Dutch elm disease every few years, to retain their majestic canopy.

The trees along my street are here because humans decided to plant and care for them. The lunch tree was retained by a settler clearing land for farming over one-hundred years ago. They are all chosen trees - they endure because of human choice and care. These trees meet simple needs for shade, and the beauty, civility, and connection to nature that we crave.

The next time that you notice a solitary tree in the countryside – in an open field or along a road – you are seeing not only a survivor of the original landscape, but the expression of a choice made long ago by people, like my dad, who felt a deep affection for that place.

 

Nephew and niece at play in the red oak grove down the lane near the creek, 2006.

Beech Sentinels, 2003. My brother calls this the musclewood tree. The road past our farm is Beech Road; named after these trees.

Lunch Tree near Sunset, March 2019.