WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 29, 2011, 06:13 PM

Fallen tree full of history

Kragnes, MN (WDAY TV) - Not many "great" things came out of the big "Memorial Day Storm" that swept through our region, downing thousands of trees. One exception….

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

On a farm in rural Kragnes, the Swanson family may have lost a prized Oak tree in the front yard, but they have made a historic discovery. The tree is 250 years old, and NDSU researchers are anxious to study the tree rings that tell a story of our region.

Alvin Swamson: “This chunk was sawed off of there, see.”

Alvin Swanson hated to see his old Oak fall in the storm.

Alvin: “This is all oak, a native grove.”

After all, it had been here long before his father and grandfather farmed here near Kragnes.

Alex Swanson – Counted 250 tree rings: “I had to go back and count different spots, several times.”

And so when grandson Alex decided to take a closer look at the oak tree…

Alex: “My grandpa guessed it would be 200 and he was pretty surprised it was 50 more.”

…he hit a history rich gold mine.

Alex: “I sat down and for awhile I could count the rings with my fingers and I used a magnifying glass and pointed it at each ring with a pocket knife then I kneeled down and squinted as I got toward the middle because the rings got smaller.”

He painstakingly...

Alex: “Pretty flabbergasting”

…used a magifying glass to count every tree ring in the old oak.

Alex: “We had no idea it would be this old.”

After every ring was counted, a grand total of 250.

Alex: “Pretty shocked, that brings it back to 1761.”

We asked NDSU Extension Forester Joe Zeleznik to come out and look at the Swanson's tree.

Joe Zeleznik – NDSU Extension Forester: “The history of this always excites me biologically and historically what happened in 1950 or 1850.”

He too amazed at the find...since a lot of oaks were harvested by pioneer homesteaders for building and firewood.

Zeleznik: “Wide rings a good year considered a wet year and narrow rings a bad year dry year. A lot of these rings are dust bowl years, just really narrow.”

And trees like this will help NDSU researchers in an ongoing study helping them determine when we had major floods here in the valley more than century ago.

Zeleznik: “In the 1860's we had a drought that was equally or worse than the dust bowl years and that will be reflected in these rings.

And the Swansons, while sad to see their front yard welcoming tree disappear…

Alex: “We have hung our deer on this for 50 years.”

Are glad something good came from the storm. A fascinating look at our past and what may be yet to come.

The Swanson family is offering a chunk of the tree to NDSU so experts can study the tree rings in detail.