Saturday, September 14, 2013

`Strength, Stability, and Steadfastness'

This made me happy when I needed it: The Live Oak Society, founded in 1934, has roughly 7,114 members in fourteen states, many of whom are dead and one of whom is human. The society is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of the Southern live oak, Quercus virginiana, and is administered by the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, Inc. According to its bylaws, the society’s only human member is the honorary chairman, whose sole responsibility is registering and recording members. To be eligible for membership, an applicant must have a trunk circumference of at least eight feet measured at a point 4.5 feet above the ground. The live oak with the most substantial girth is named president. According to the society’s web site, its first president was the Locke Breaux Oak of Taft, La., “who lost its life in 1968 due to air and ground water pollution.” The society rightly says that the live oak "symbolizes strength, stability, and steadfastness." 

I’ve always felt an attachment to oaks. The stout red oak behind my childhood home in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, is still standing. Since first moving to Houston nine years ago, my primary allegiance has shifted to the live oak, a species I previously knew only through Whitman’s poem. The Rice University campus, where I work, doubles as the Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum, home to 4,200 woody plants representing about one-hundred species. Included are fourteen species of oak, including 2,220 live oaks. In effect, I spend every work day in a green colonnade, a living park. Whitman says the live oak “made me think of myself.” Of course, everything made Whitman think of himself. I’m partial to Richard Wilbur, who sees in oaks and other trees “a great largesse.”

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