Sitting in the shade

Published 2:03 pm Friday, June 12, 2020

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We walked towards the big oak tree that grew along the bed of a long abandoned narrow-gauge railroad.  It was the largest of the oaks along the tree line at the edge of our backyard.  It was straight as an arrow before its branches spread out. 

He was holding my hand as we walked.  How old is that tree, I asked.  It is probably about the same age I am, he replied.  That is one of my favorite memories of my great-grandfather.  He was 75 years old and died the next year.

Years later, I walked in the same yard with my own children.  I pointed out that the tree was now one hundred years old.  When they asked how I knew that, I replied the tree was the same age as their great-great grandfather.

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Warren Buffett once said that someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.  I have been fortunate to sit in a lot of shade in my life because of trees planted way before my time. The first house Mary Lou and I had was just outside of Donalsonville on Town & Country Road.  It was a great first house, though we did not like the dozens of pine trees in the yard that required the constant raking of straw and weekly collections of fallen cones.  The one distinguishing feature was a magnificent old oak spread out just past the garage. We built a patio from bricks salvaged from the foundation of the old Donalsonville train depot.  The benches were made from the massive beams that had been used as support under the floor of the old station.  It was an extraordinary spot at an otherwise rather average house. Later, the house burned.  The tree was damaged but survived.  It still stands to this day giving no hint of the wonderful times once held under the spread of its canopy.

For the next 37 years we lived in another spot adorned with trees planted long ago.  Our home on West Sixth Street had trees that were planted by Buck & Ramona Cummings when they built the house in the sixties.  There was a magnolia tree that grew to an enormous height.  It was a perfect climbing tree for the neighborhood kids. 

The front door was flanked by Holly trees that also grew a large size and framed the house from the front street.  A big oak in the middle of our back driveway greeted me at the end of each day.

All these trees were planted 20 years before we bought the house.  Because of the Cummings’ planning and foresight, Mary Lou and I got to raise our family under the shade of beautiful trees

Hurricane Michael destroyed all the big trees at our home in Donalsonville.  Only the memories remain.    A lone live oak tree survived.  It is an Auburn Oak, grown from an acorn from the iconic oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.   I hope years from now someone will enjoy the shade from this tree that we planted.

My favorite trees were always the old oak trees at our cabin at Compass Lake.  They had big gnarled limbs, with moss that would hang down to your waist.  They made a canopy of shade that was as cool as the water in the lake on a hot summer day. 

They were also lost due to the storm.  All the oaks and maples were lost, though only one cypress tree was damaged.  The loss of these old trees left a huge bare spot in the yard and a huge hole in my heart. 

An old Chinese proverb says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second-best time is now.   I cannot replace the hundred-year-old oak trees, but I discovered I could get a jump start on the process.

Thanks to Huntsman Farms near Wellborn, Florida, I planted seven live oak trees last week at Compass Lake.  They are 15 years old, about 30 feet tall with a limb span of about 20 feet.   I was astonished at the tree farm’s operation.  Hundreds of acres of oaks, magnolias and palm trees are planted in rows just like a row crop.  There were 50 acres of trees just like the ones I selected, all the same age. My son-in-law, Grant Faulk, and I spent several hours tagging the trees we wanted.  We even chose a tree with a long horizontal limb that will hopefully hold a swing overlooking the lake one day. 

Over the course of two days the trees were gently planted.  A sprinkler system provides 40 gallons of water per day to each tree.  Supports and restraints will hold the trees in place over the next two hurricane seasons. 

The trees were an instant salve to the ache I have felt for the past twenty months over the loss of so much beauty.   My greatest hope is that one day, one of my descendants will look back and know I planted these trees for them.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the shade.