Thursday, September 16, 2010

Super Charging Oaks?

My 9 year old son, whose fascination with cars and speed means he will not be allowed to get his driver's license until he is 32 years old, is currently reading a book about vintage drag racing cars. I have paged through the book a few times, and near as I can tell drag racing is primarily about:
1. Doing everything possible to stretch or bend the rules to gain a competitive advantage
2. Accusing everyone else doing the same thing of cheating
3. Splattering the car/oneself on guard rails and cement retaining walls and/or blowing oneself up (or, for those of you who object to dangling participles, blowing up oneself)

Why talk about drag racing on a blog devoted to growing, nurturning and eating the fruits of oaks? One word: Performance.

When leafing (get it?) through the drag racing book it struck me how dedicated - more like obsessed - these early drag racers were (and I presume current drag racers are) with squeezing every last drop of performance out of their cars. The gains in performance in a relatively short period of time were staggering.

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits, over the span of a 30+ year career, was the first man to break both 170mph and 270mph for the quarter mile, and reached 323mph by the end of his career. (He also tried, unsuccessfully except for part of his foot, to blow himself up in 1970, after which he decided that straddling a nitro burning bazillion horsepower engine probably wasn't the best idea and switched to a rear engine design.)

From 170mph to 323mph in a little over 30 years. That's utterly amazing. That shows what happens when passion and ingenuity combine.

What if we oak enthusiasts were just as obsessed with performance? What if we devoted similar energy and resources to improving the growth and health of our oaks? What if oaks were viewed by the general public as "high performance" or "top fuel" trees?

The implications are huge. In our cities people would plant more oaks instead of the short-lived, disease susceptible trees that are viewed (mostly falsely) as being faster growing. Our farmers would plant oaks for forage and food crops, knowing that they wouldn't have to wait decades before getting their first crop.

I'm the farthest thing in the world from a "motor head" or "grease monkey." I know how to check the oil and change a tire, and that's about it. My choice of cars shows I care little about high performance on the streets, much to my son's chagrin.

I am, however, an "acorn head" with a passion for oaks, for seeing them planted in our yards and parks to replace turf grass and less productive trees, for seeing them planted to feed and sustain wildlife, for seeing them planted on our farms instead of cereal grains... for traveling back in time to when we allowed oaks to sustain us and our animals.

Part of this will mean convincing people and drawing attention to the fact that oaks are, and with selective breeding and hybridization can become exponentially moreso, high performance trees.

Summer is drawing to a close in Minnesota, with all the sublety of a slammed door. I'll be talking soon about some of my experiments from this past growing season in increasing oak growth & performance, and highlighting the work of others.

I already have a ton of experiments and projects planned for next spring (my love of and tolerance for winter has decreased in direct relationship to my eagerness for spring to come early so I can get planting). Drag racing has its winter and summer national meets. Let's turn next summer into a race, to see how much performance we can get out of our newly planted oaks - how fast can we get them growing, how early can they begin producing acorns? But unlike drag racers, let's share notes and information, and let's not accuse each other of cheating!

To borrow another racing phrase: Gentlemen and women, start your acorns!

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