The other day at the venerable New York Times, James Bannon penned a piece chronicling the quiet tragedy of a 600 year old oak tree in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, a tree under whose branches George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, my dawgs, are said to have cooled their top boots, a tree considered one of the oldest in North America. Every one of those 600 years, however, finally caught up with the old oak, causing it to be officially deemed unsaveable as it now merely waits to meet its maker.
I admit this article choked me up, and it got me to thinking, much like most anything does, about movies and trees in movies and the trees in movies to be remembered most fondly. Indeed, there are more Best Trees In Movies lists out there then you likely imagine, but these lists tend toward spectacular trees - like, magical, supernatural trees. Like, trees in fantasy movies, like the evil tree in “Poltergeist” or that tree that walked and talked in that “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” zzzzzzzzzzfest. But those tree do not interest me anywhere near as much as another tree interests me.
In Robin Hood lore there is the Major Oak, located in Sherwood Forest, near the town of Edwinstowe, where it is said the real Robin Hood hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham. And in 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, the definitive Robin Hood movie, all other Robin Hood movies, there is the Gallows Oak, where the jovial Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and his most merry of men congregate.
That Gallows Oak was actually Hooker Oak in Bidwell Park in Chico, California which stood in for Sherwood Forest. And almost forty year after the film was released, Hooker Oak fell. Maybe that doesn’t really matter. Maybe I should be happy I could still go get some shade under Major Oak, but then I’m the guy who upon visiting Washington D.C. was disappointed he saw the real Gil Stuart portrait of George Washington and not the replica Gil Stuart portrait of George Washington because the replica was the one Dolley Madison hauled out of the White House before the British burned it down which is, like, you know, one of my favorite stories of all time. That is to say, I would rather see the faux-Sherwood Forest oak where the Flynn Robin Hood chilled than the actual Sherwood Forest oak where the real, so to speak, Robin Hood took refuge. Alas, I can’t.
Still, that’s kind of an underrated aspect of movies, isn’t it? That ability to preserve. There are versions of “San Francisco” (1936) that include The Golden Gate Bridge under construction, freezing the image of America’s greatest architectural achievement at a unique moment in its history, and so too does “The Adventures of Robin Hood” ensure that Hooker Oak will never be lost to the annals of time.