It’s no wonder everyone loves spring. The delicate new leaves, the bulb plants pushing their heads up to take a look, the birds building nests up in the trees. It feels like the world is starting up all over again and we will have another chance.
One of the many reasons I love my home in southwest France is because the Basque Country- straddling the border between France and Spain- has seasons, real seasons. Spring is especially wonderful coming after a cold, icy, windy winter. That first hint of spring I always look for is not a tiny new shoot. It’s an oak tree.
I fell in love with the English oak (Quercus robur) in southwest France, although we never called it English oak. The big, hundred-year-old oak on the lower edge of my slope is called “chÃªne pédonculé,” a species said to be “d’ici,” meaning from the hood. In yesteryear, this oak was chosen by the Basques to symbolize Basque liberties.
Although the big oak on the bottom of my property may not be the very first sign of spring, it’s the one I look for. That’s because when the tree leafs out, it seems to be surrounded by a glowing golden halo. One day I found out what it was.
Examining the Golden Glow
For the first few years I lived on the mountain, I simply enjoyed the Quercus robur oak from afar. My little home came with quite a chunk of land, but it is on such a sharp slope that we can sled down when there is snow. So, though I noticed a kind of glow around the oak in springtime, I never got down there to take a closer look.
One spring morning, I walked outside to the patio to have coffee. There, down the hill, was the oak, with a golden glow turning its canopy into a kind of magical halo. It looked as if it was half tree, half angel. I put down my coffee and hiked on down. There, on the branches, together with the emerging leaves, were tiny golden flowers.
I must admit that I had no idea, at that point in my life, that oak trees flowered. I just never thought about it. I knew they produced acorns as fruit, but that was the limit of my knowledge.
Querus robur is a good sized tree, growing to 60 feet (20 m.) or more with a thick trunk, a majestic spreading crown, and the tiny blossoms””separate male and female catkins””come and go so quickly, they are easy to miss.
I am glad that I walked down to the oak and saw its catkins up close because it made me appreciate and understand the tree more. The truth is, however, it’s far more spectacular to see the golden glow from the patio than peer at the small catkins up close.