Thursday, October 30, 2008

Legend of The Oak Leaf

“The tenacity of oak leaves gave rise to a folktale that explains why oak leaves are shaped the way they are. Legend has it that the devil once made a pact with a farmer. The devil stipulated that he could snatch the poor man’s soul that fall, as soon as the oak had lost all its leaves, which were then rounded with a smooth edge. The devil was beginning to look forward to October. However, November came and went, and by December, all the trees were bare except for the oak. Its leaves, withered and brown, held fast to their stalks. Spring arrived and, one after another, the withered leaves dropped off the tree. When the last of the leaves had fallen, the devil thought the farmer’s time had finally come. But when the devil appeared to collect his due, the farmer guided him very close to the tree and showed him that the tips of new leaves had long since started to appear. Upon seeing this, the devil flew into a terrible rage, venting his anger on the oak tree it with his claws. The leaves of the oak have had strangely lobed edges ever since.”
- From The Curious Gardener, by Jurgen Dahl, “Some Things About Oaks”

This theory, while not scientifically accurate (the devil has claws?) or botanically correct (if old leaves are torn, new ones will grow back torn?), carries within it a lesson about hope and faith and all sorts of dreams deferred, which is doubtless why I favor this theory over some dull tale about the life cycle of the oak tree, and also why I find it instructive when it comes to formulating a theory about why, say, tornadoes always strike trailer parks, or carnival clowns seem so closely related to serial murderers, or even why scary movies always come out at Halloween.

Constancy is rewarded over fiendish cleverness. Even after we all pack up the garden following the final garden party, decorated by Mother Nature in those bright and garish fall colors, even if we all doze fitfully through those lengthening winter nights, and we all stagger dimly through those short cold winter days: nature abides, seasons unwind, and leaves return.


Tina said...

Well, huh...I always thought the devil had claws. Maybe it was just because I attended a 'scare-the-hell-outta-the-kiddies' church.
If you read the story detail a little closer, you'll see that it says the devil attacked the tree when the new leaves were appearing, not that he shredded the old, fallen leaves.
Very cool story. Who knew!

Marie said...

I wonder what the farmer had done to deserve the devil in the first place? Crowded his hens? Antibiotic'd his feed? Probably not, since this was Back in the Day...

Martha in Michigan said...

I have a question about oak trees. There are not as many around here as in the neighborhood of our youth. The one in front of L&B's place in Ann Arbor holds its brown leaves until spring. I never recall that happening in Maryland, back when we raked and burned leaves for weeks in the fall. Are they different kinds of oaks, or is it a climate thing, or what? The leaves were the pointy type in both places, so I think the species is the same.