Thursday, March 8, 2018


Redbud at Chicot State Park (photo by Victoria I. Sullivan)

Some tree huggers I know are still hiking on wooded trails at age 82, but I have to admit that I struggle to make treks through forests at my age. I’m sure that Louisiana’s famous botanist, Caroline Dormon, who “carved trails through the woods, scooped out a reflection pond and planted hundreds of wildflowers, trees, and shrubs”* was a brisk walker until she reached at least 80, but I was sorely tested on a two-mile-trek looking for a crabapple in bloom yesterday in the Louisiana State Arboretum near Ville Platte, Louisiana. I discovered a blooming redbud for which I’d been searching, but the crabapple blossoms were too high to photograph, and we turned back on the PawPaw Loop Trail before I attempted to climb any steeper hills.

The Louisiana State Arboretum is a 600-acre preservation area of 5 1/2 miles of hiking opportunities for real hikers and covers a bottomland hardwood forest and a Beech-Magnolia Forest, and we enjoyed the hour in this nature preserve, despite my bum knee. I’m writing a book of poetry that Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan is photographing for me. She has spent the last forty years identifying trees and plants for me and always attempts to provide opportunities for me to engage in outdoor exercise. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a photo of the crabapple and saw only a few white flower petals beneath one of the tallest crabapple I’ve glimpsed in my 82 years.

In the introduction to Let the Trees Answer (the book of poetry and photos about trees) I pay tribute to my mother who loved the woods. I relate that one of her paintings showing a gnome standing beneath a tree, holding a paintbrush and palette, hung in her bedroom until the 1980’s, and that piece of art symbolized her love of woods and the mystical connection to creativity my mother certainly felt. I also pay tribute to my father who would announce a cease fire for arguments at the meal table when I was growing up by saying “Look at the trees,” pointing to the three tall pines in the backyard of our home in Franklinton, Louisiana.

I wrote a lot about trees in the essay on Caroline Dormon in Their Adventurous Will, a book about memorable Louisiana women. Dormon lived on a 120-acre tract of piney woods called Briarwood near Saline, Louisiana and, according to its owner, harbored a “dark place” in its deepest parts where the devil’s snuff box grew and which Dormon would dramatically tap for naturalist visitors so that the fungus expelled a cloud of spores and impressed them with the mysteries of plant life.

In the heart of the Arboretum at Chicot State Park, I could almost hear Dormon talking about hybridizing plants so they would be immortal (she believed this) and scouring the backwoods for seeds and cuttings to put in her own woods. An adventurous soul, she probably would've devised some way of climbing one of the larger trees near the crabapple I discovered so she could take a photo of the blossoms. I was happy to see that the Arboretum featured a Caroline Dormon Lodge on the Walker Branch Trail in a Beech-Magnolia Forest that contained a covered bench where visitors could sit and listen to the trees talking.

*Southern Living Magazine, July, 1992

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