I’ve lived in Columbia, Missouri for more than 20 years but never made the 15 mile trip to see one of our area’s most magnificent treasures: The Burr Oak Tree. Of course, I’d heard about it, but it wasn’t until a week or so ago that I actually laid eyes on it.
The Burr Oak Tree; The Williamson Burr Oak Tree; The McBaine Burr Oak Tree; The Big Tree. It has many names but stands alone 1,000 feet in every direction.
- It’s older than the first Europeans who sailed down the Mississippi River in 1673 to what would eventually become the state of Missouri.
- It’s older than the oldest permanent settlement in Missouri, St. Genevieve, by more than 100 years.
- It’s older than St. Louis, Missouri.
- The Lewis and Clark Exhibition probably passed within sight of this tree in 1804… which was almost 200-year-old by then…while on their journey through the area.
The Big Tree is tied with another in Kentucky for the title of the national champion (largest) of the species, Quercus Macrocarpa (burr oak tree). It is the oldest burr oak tree in Missouri. It towers above everything else in the area at 90 feet tall with a 130-foot spread. It’s massive trunk has a 287-inch circumference. That’s almost 24 feet. Four adults with outstretched arms would be needed to ring the tree’s trunk.
The Big Tree is estimated to be upwards of 400 years old. In its lifetime, this majestic tree has withstood storms, droughts, floods and the progress of humankind. More recently, it was the victim of graffiti vandalism and has been struck by lightening. Yet, it’s still standing tall and magnificent as ever. It even has it’s own Facebook page!
The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.
And what a lesson this teaches us. It’s not the cushy, pampered, overprotected life that produces strength. It’s not a life where everything is easy and given to you that makes a person resilient.
Strength is the product of challenge and hardship. Both physical and mental strength are achieved through hard work. Muscles must be worked to become stronger. The mind must be worked to become sharper. Struggle is necessary to produce strength…physical, mental and spiritual.
Roots must grow deep to sustain during hard times. And I’m not just talking about trees. When winds whip relentlessly through our lives, deep roots help steady us against the assault. Having deep roots protect us during times of crisis by reaching deep for life-sustaining truths that carry us through hardship. When the storms of life come, deep roots will anchor and keep us from being blown apart.
Birds and animals have taken shelter in its branches. Its acorns provides food for many foraging animals. Its shade provides a break from the hot, summer sun. The tree is a blessing to everything around it.
To see this tree in comparison to a person or vehicle beside it is to simply stand in awe. May we all grow to be this strong and able to be the same sort of blessing to others in our lives.
Because it’s only by exposing ourselves to the challenges of life do we become strong enough to be a blessing to others.