Tuesday, April 29, 2014

UNDER THE OAKS

 Most authors are pleased when someone sponsors a book signing for them in a bookstore or at a book festival, but few of them have the privilege of autographing books on the porch of a private plantation home as I did this past Sunday afternoon in New Iberia, Louisiana. In an earlier blog, I described Belmont Plantation where the signing took place, but I didn't give much space to the grounds surrounding the old Wyche home.

From the porch of Belmont, visitors could see the copse of old live oaks in the front yard, and I sat at a table overlooking the overarching umbrella of trees. However, I didn't see the grandfather oak on the property until I went around the side of the house to look at Mary Wyche's hidden garden, and I almost gasped at the sight of the Quercus Virginiana standing sentinel over the back of the house. It was grand enough to warrant the photograph in this blog.

Louisiana is noted for its oaks, the sweeping limbs of which are often as large as the trunks of other trees, and the weight of the branches brings them almost to the ground. These grand trees aren't cut anymore, but at one time their heavy, durable wood was used to build ships. Today, members of organizations like the Louisiana Live Oak Society would cringe at the suggestion of cutting even one of them. The LLOS has been around since the year before I was born and is dedicated to preserving these Louisiana beauties. One of the organization's registrants is The Seven Sisters Oak in Mandeville, Louisiana on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, which is 1200 years old and has a girth of over 38 feet!

On this latest trip to my home in New Iberia, I found leaves from the live oak in my backyard mounded everywhere and jokingly threatened to cut it down, but when I thought about the shade it provides in humid Louisiana weather, I was sorry to have voiced such sacrilege. Instead, I paid several hundred dollars to have a few limbs trimmed. The worker who raked the leaves accumulated in my yard remarked that last year's acorn crop from the oaks had been abundant, and this year the oaks had shed more leaves than they usually do. He claimed that many of his customers had been felling the trees because of the heavy leaf shedding and last year's plenteous acorn crop. Although acorns and leaves litter the yards of those of us who prefer pristine lawns, I can't imagine ending my prize oak's life—it was once valued at over $25,000!

The sight of Mary Wyche's massive oak in the backyard of Belmont Plantation sent me scurrying home to look up Walt Whitman's comments about the oak trees growing in Louisiana. In Leaves of Grass, he extolled the beauty of these trees: "I saw in Louisiana a live oak growing./All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,/Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green.../And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,/I brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,/It is not needed to remind me of my own dear friends..."


About the massive oaks around New Iberia, I often say: "If only the old trees could talk, what stories they could tell that I would write about!"
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