Archived Story

Forrest and I plant an oak in the back yard

Published 9:01am Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Column: Pothole Prairie

This is a story about an oak named Boji.

I had been wanting to plant a tree for quite some time now. In fact, I first called Gopher State One Stop — the call-before-you-dig folks — in 2008.

Then I didn’t go buy the tree. The project turned back into an idea. But then I had last week off from work, and for the first half of the week, I was going to be at home. No commitments. No plans. Just me.

I seized the time to work on yard projects. Some vacation, huh? I trimmed bushes. I sprayed Roundup on cracks. I rented a tiller and tilled a strip where I wanted to plant new grass and made an area for my wife’s garden.

My neighbor to the north, Trent Goskeson, told me there had once been a massive tree in my yard to the northwest of my house that had shaded much of my backyard and some of his yard.

Carol Langer, who owned my corner home before Lisa and I purchased it in 2006, said the tree was a big silver maple. Because the wood of a silver maple is soft, cables held it up.

Carol said wind during a thunderstorm in the summer of 2005 snapped a cable and felled the tree. It had provided plenty of shade for the four-season porch on the northwest corner of the house.

In the June 26, 2010, thunderstorm — that one that came a week after tornadoes ripped through the area — a tree in the front yard of Trent’s home fell over and damaged the corner of his house. This really opened up the space along Maurice Street and reminded me of my wishes to plant a tree, and I nearly did it last fall.

I had never planted a tree, so that probably was holding me back. On Arbor Day of this year, I covered the tree planting at Memorial Park. Workers from the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department along with ones from local utility companies planted several trees with the assistance of preschoolers from The Children’s Center. Our 4-year-old son, Forrest, was one of those kids.

The foresters — or are they arborists? — taught the kids how to plant a tree properly. Oh, I realized, that’s not that hard. Making sure the graft is right at ground level is the main thing.

So on Tuesday, shovel in hand and the property once again marked for utilities, I dug two holes, with Forrest’s help. He’s a good helper. He got out his Tonka dump truck.

My yard came with several other trees. There are two ashes, one on the west side and one off the southwest corner in the front. On the front and in the boulevard along Fountain Street, there are two little-leaf lindens. These four trees shade the front and side of the house quite nicely and surely have saved us money. There also is a beautiful, medium-sized ironwood tree in our backyard.

The ironwood and the ashes are native Minnesota trees, which is what I sought to plant. But which ones? I used my phone to check online so I could get the native ones.

I decided upon a sugar maple and a northern red oak. Darla at the Albert Lea Seed House said I needed 50 feet between the trees so they didn’t end up with any root fungus problems. I thought I would be OK.

But when Forrest and I got home to measure, I was much too close. I rearranged the locations, but then I felt one of them would be too close to the northeast corner of the house. I had to pick one or the other. I looked down Maurice to quickly inventory the foliage and noticed quite a few maples. It would be apt to plant an oak.

Forrest and I took the maple back, came home, filled in the two holes, dug a new hole and dug it to a larger size, now that I could see what would go in it, then removed the oak from its planter, tried our best to straighten and loosen the roots in the root ball and planted it.

On Thursday, Lisa and I packed the station wagon, buckled our 4-year-old son, Forrest, inside, then headed west for a four-day vacation at the Okoboji area in Iowa with Grandma, Grandpa and Forrest’s cousins and uncle. We went on a 35-mile bike ride to Loon Lake in Minnesota. We played disc golf in Estherville. We rode on a boat on West Okoboji Lake. We swam in the lake and in a pool. We grilled many meals at our rented cottage at Fillenwarth Beach Resort. We enjoyed the rides and attractions at Arnolds Park. We yelled, “Shut the door!” at the children 1,462 times.

Half of Albert Lea probably knows Sara Aeikens. Forrest calls her Grandma Sara. She had stopped by during the digging, the purchase and the planting of the oak on Tuesday, and somewhere along the line she encouraged me to have Forrest name the tree.

So driving back from Okoboji, Forrest and I had been talking about naming the oak he helped to plant. He said he needed to see it again. We unpacked the car, and he took another look at the tree. I reminded him it was an oak tree, and over lunch we talked about names.

Lisa and I threw out some ideas, and Forrest didn’t like any of them. Finally, I suggested something related to Okoboji because it starts with “oak.” He liked it. I said what about we call it Boji, like the tree’s full name is Oak o’ Boji. Lisa and Forrest both liked it.

So now we have an oak named Boji to remind us of the past week. The tree has plenty of space for sunshine and, unless it gets cut down, will outlive us all by hundreds of years.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every other Tuesday.