I rode the Washington Metro to work for several years, slogging it from the Maryland suburbs to downtown DC. My stop was Grosvenor, just past the Medical Center (NIH) station. Between those two stations, the track comes out from the underground, and then it makes an odd curve. When I did think of it (which was hardly ever,) I assumed the curve followed the road, Rockville Pike, an extension of Wisconsin Avenue. Until last weekend.
On a jog around the neighborhood, a friend pointed out a historic marker on the side of the road and told the brief story of Linden Oak. The original plans for the Metro had the Red Line going right through this old white oak tree, which was older than the country. A local politician and activist led a fight to preserve the tree, and you guessed it, the Metro designers changed the course of the Red Line to include an odd curve going around the tree.
The white oak is the official state tree for Maryland, so designated because of the Wye Oak which had reached an age of over 450 years. Still, it was the Linden Oak which earned the honors of the Bicentennial Tree in 1976, perhaps because of its association as a protest tree. More recently, it has surpassed the Wye Oak which was toppled by a storm in 2002. So the Linden Oak, a babe not quite 300 eyars old, is now the largest and oldest white oak tree in the state.
Of equal interest may be the career of Idamae Garrott, the politician instrumental for saving the tree. She won terms as a County Council member and state legislator in both the House and the Senate. Her obit in the local paper gives a flavor of her energy, her political style (“paralysis by analysis”) and her tenacity serving the county for over 40 years. Yet, her obit makes no mention of the “Linden Oak.” It had to have been just one small paragraph in a long book of legislative struggles at the local level.
What’s striking is history finding its way into the most random of places, unobserved and unknown by the thousands of passers-by, every single day. A history of a tree, of a civic activist, of a major urban transportation system.
It gives us pause. How many of these stories surround us? How many times during the course of the day do we pass by a spot which may or may not have a marker, but certainly has a compelling story? What’s your Linden Oak?