Amongst the Oak Trees

What defines an oak?

Quercus alba 'Pathfinder'

A First Nation trail-marker tree in Illinois that showed the direction to an easy river crossing.

The term “trail tree” (or marker tree, pointer tree, thong tree, etc.) is used to describe trees that were altered intentionally by humans long ago as directional signs. Such trees were bent or kinked and most likely held in place by thongs of deer hide, or pulled laterally using vines already climbing in them, until they grew permanently into the desired position.

Pathfinder was dated to the 1730s. The direction which it pointed indicated a safe crossing point of the Sagamon River, where Rock Creek, a small tributary stream, joins it. When streams of differing flow patterns like these merge, they can form sand or gravel shoals that are safer places to cross. Before bridges, crossing rivers was a dangerous activity, so a trail tree pointing the way was an important asset.

The original Pathfinder tree collapsed in 2008. Propagation material was taken from the original tree and now the next generation of Pathfinder trees are being planted in order tell the story of these trees and the First Nations people who created them.

Emory Oak Collaborative Tribal Restoration Initiative

Traditional acorn cooking demonstration

Hot rocks taken from a fire are quickly dipped in water to clean and then placed straight into the basket to heat the acorn flour and water batter. The batter is brought to the boil and cooked using this method. The watertight handwoven baskets are passed down through generations of women and the bentwood tool is used to remove the rocks.   

Video courtesy of Kimberly Stevenot and Allison Stevenot, Northern Sierra Mewuk.

Acorn woodpeckers

An acorn woodpecker granary

An old tree with hundreds of holes pecked by acorn woodpeckers that were previously used to store acorns

Oaks as keystone species
Click here to download


Our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated about what's happening around the gardens.