All along the whole of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal crescent from New Orleans to Apalachicola, we’ve got live oaks. They are plentiful and squat the land, low and broad, with their gnarly twisted trunks and furrowed bark like the hide of some ancient thunderous beast.
They grow easily and the grandfathers and grandmothers of the live oaks spread their canopies wider than houses. Many of them have trunks the size of whole rooms. They are the Druidic royalty of of the backwood landscape and even guard bronze plaques in Southern city parks.
They are regal in their bearing, these live oak trees, and the rough-barked limbs of the mightiest of them droop under their own weight, and dip close to the ground at two-thirds their hundred-foot reach. And the ends of those branches turn up toward the sky like the palms of some conjuring sorcerer, bedecked in sleeves of green resurrection ferns that get crispy brown and look dead until some rain comes.*
Walking down by Weeks Bay with my little dog, taking a brisk jaunt on a chilly afternoon a week from Christmas, I spy on a live oak’s branches the bright red lichen that so often decorates their burly arms. And I’m reminded of Helen’s comment on a recent post: “The red lichen growing next to resurrection fern is the best dressing of this season.”
And the live oak itself, through all the changing seasons, and even centuries for some of them, retains its leaves in green evidence of enduring life. Like the living words of the Gospel message that still holds on through seasons of upheaval and confusion.
Helen’s right. The red and the green—crucifixion and resurrection, the plot and storied final pages of our teacher Jesus, that opened with a heralded birth still celebrated two thousand years later. The season’s blessing to us all.
Stout and sure live oak
sailing ships’ stems ribs futtocks—
mangers and crosses
*The words in the first three paragraphs here are after those on pages of my novel, The Widow and the Tree. Signed first editions of the book are available at Page & Palette Bookstore in lovely downtown Fairhope, Alabama.