Trees are ubiquitous — almost everybody has access to one. They tell a complete and ongoing story — from their deep taproots to the birds that alight on their delicate high branches. Trees reflect our lives through their perseverance and seasonal rhythms—always changing yet constant.
Even the sound of the word “oak” evokes steadfastness and trust, perhaps of the self. A tree associated with that kind of endurance would seem to be a logical choice for a national tree, and the United States, Germany, Serbia, Cyprus, England, Estonia, France, Moldova, Romania, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Wales, Galicia, and Bulgaria concur.
Myths and legends about the oak abound. It was considered sacred to the Greek god Zeus and to gods in ancient Middle Eastern, Slavic, Estonian, Norse, Celtic, Saxon, Greek, and Roman traditions. It’s been associated with King Arthur and Robin Hood. In Welsh myths, the blossoms conjure magical realms. In many cultures, the oak tree is associated with heaven and hell, perhaps because of its roots, which are said to grow as deep as the tree is tall.
The psychologist Carl Jung saw the oak tree as representative of a balanced self; the hidden roots as an apt metaphor for the unconscious. I wonder if the oak’s lobed leaves that evoke the shape of the brain prompted that choice as well?
I was taken with the story of the Jackson Oak in Athens, Georgia, “The Tree that Owns Itself.” A stone tablet near the oak bears a summary of a transaction initiated by Colonel William H. Jackson in the early nineteenth century:
For and in Consideration
Of the Great Love I Bear
This Tree and the Great Desire
I Have for its Protection
For All Time, I Convey Entire
Possession of Itself and
All Land Within Eight Feet
Of the Tree on All Sides
Jackson treasured his memories of playing under the tree as a child, and wanted to protect it and the land where it grew, so he deeded the tree to itself. It was uprooted in a windstorm in 1942, but a replacement, the “Son of the Tree that Owns Itself,” was cultivated from a seedling
The Self and Selflessness
The oak imparts wisdom about the self and selflessness. Take responsibility for our actions, own and know ourselves, and remember that even after we’re gone, the acorns we planted will have grown into oaks.