Thursday, May 29, 2014

A day no oak lover can afford to miss...

...except I will have to miss it.  And it's killing me.

The International Oak Society is holding an Oak Day in Mississippi hosted by Dudley Phelps, nursery manager for Mossy Oak's Nativ Nurseries.

Click here to learn more.

John Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever, leading UCLA to ten NCAA championships in a twelve year period.  He was known as the Wizard of Westwood.  When fans, sports radio hosts and especially rival coaches discuss Wooden, the argument always arises:  Was it Wooden's coaching or was it his players?  (As in, who wouldn't have won that many championships with Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor and the other amazing players he coached?)  Chicken, egg, who cares?  Fact is Wooden both got the players and he coached them to reach their fullest potential.  Bill Walton tells the story of his first practice under Coach Wooden.  What nuggets of wisdom would the Wizard bestow upon them?  What complex offensive strategy would he blow their young minds with?  Then Wooden proceeded to spend the first 20 minutes of practice discussing the proper way to tie a pair of basketball sneakers.

His point:  Details matter.  Details make all the difference between success and failure.

Dudley Phelps is the Wizard of West Point (as in West Point, Mississippi).  His accomplishments dwarf those of John Wooden.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.

(Click to enlarge)
 This is a white x overcup oak hybrid.  It was planted as a 20 inch tall seedling in March, 2011.  This photo was taken 7 months later, in October 2011.  The plastic tree tube is 4ft tall.  The tree is twice that.  Do the math (no seriously, I'm not good enough at math to calculate the growth).  Here's that same tree one year later, in October 2012.  It's a good two inches in caliper at the base.

(Click to enlarge)
Yes, that's 19 months - 2 growing seasons - after planting a 20 inch seedling.  
Fluke you say?  Take a gander at this:

(Click to enlarge)
He can make trees grow sideways!  Actually, blogger takes all vertical portrait format photos and turns them sideways and there doesn't seem to be a damn thing I can do about it.  Sorry about that.  Here's the story on this one. Chinese chestnut, planted as an 18 inch tall seedling in July, 2012.  Didn't grow at all above ground for the remainder of the 2012 growing season (although I'm sure the roots were busy).  This photo was taken in September of 2013.  Four foot tube.  Ten foot tree.  One (and a half) growing season.
Kind of puts 10 NCAA Championships to shame doesn't it?

So what's the secret, superior players (in this case planting stock) or superior coaching (planting methods and attention to detail)?  Both.  Dudley 'recruits' the players (identifies superior parent trees* and collects their seed), trains them (cultivates the nursery stock), and coaches them (plants and maintains them).  His attention to every detail of the process is what sets him apart.  Ask him how to plant a tree and he'll spend 20 minutes talking about preparing the soil months in advance - the arboreal equivalent of how to tie your shoes.  It's what makes him the Wizard of West Point.

* The longer I have been a sports fan the more I realize the importance of parentage; so many of the athletes I cheer for today are the sons and daughters - or in some cases grandchildren - of athletes I cheered for as a kid!

I would give up one or two non-essential limbs to be there for Oak Day.  Hope you can make it, and I hope it draws the kind of turn out it deserves - which is to say enough people to fill a stadium.  These days I'd way rather watch oaks grow than a basketball game - more action and fewer commercial.

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