By SEAN DIETRICH
I have a thing for trees. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’ve always been a nerd.
I think it all dates back to my days in Boy Scouts. My cousin Ed Lee and I were second-class Scouts, and we earned our forestry merit badges one summer. Actually, I earned both his badge and mine. He mainly read “Archie” comic books while I did all the fieldwork.
I’ve been obsessed with trees ever since. Namely, because I’ve always felt that trees are the strongest things you’ll ever see. Trees endure the hell of an earthly life, and they just keep on living.
The first officially published story I ever wrote was about a longleaf pine. The story was published in my small hometown paper in Florida.
In Florida, the longleaf is our flagship specimen. At one time, they covered 90 million acres in the Southeast. Now they cover less than 3% of that.
Throughout history, mankind has ceremoniously massacred longleafs to build his railroads, his battleships, his Dave and Buster’s and his crappy D.R. Horton express homes.
The mighty longleaf is endangered, in case you were wondering.
I will go out of my way to visit a good tree.
There was the Angel Oak, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. The oldest oak east of the Mississippi. Sixty-five feet tall, 28 feet in circumference. Its branches cover 17,000 square feet. The largest limb reaches 187 feet long. The tree is 500 years old, predating Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
I’ve also seen the Methuselah tree, in the Inyo National Forest. The tree stands in a distant location between the Sierra Nevada range on the California-Nevada border.
The Methuselah is 4,853 years old. That’s a Stone Age tree. It’s not just the oldest tree on earth. It is the oldest living organism on Earth. You want to talk about strong?
The exact location of the Methuselah is kept secret to prevent vandalism. A former park ranger showed it to me privately. I placed a hand on Methuselah’s gnarled trunk and I cried.
My favorite tree, however, stands in Thomasville, Georgia. It is a live oak, Quercus virginiana. The tree is 338 years old.
There is just something about it.
You can see the oak standing on East Monroe Street. It’s always a little surprising when you first lay eyes on it.
You don’t expect to see a tree this huge in a residential section of town. One minute you’re driving through cutesy historic houses and then, boom, there’s a tree bigger than the Chrysler building.
The limbs span 165 feet and are covered in green resurrection ferns. The tree’s base has a 26-foot circumference.
A lot goes into keeping this tree healthy. There is an underground watering system. An above-ground watering system. There are steel cables to support the heavy limbs and keep them from snapping. The tree has its own on-call arborist, its own surgeon and its own dedicated IRS agent.
When you stand beneath the impressive Thomasville Oak at dusk, as small-town life eddies around you, as people drive kids home from school, as folks get home from work, you cannot help but be moved by the tree’s simple power.
The crickets sing an evening chorus. The Georgian air is balmy. And you can’t help but do what President Eisenhower once did when he visited this same tree. You take selfies.
The last time I was at this tree, I took many photographs. And I wrote a column about the tree.
The next morning, I received an email from a woman in Connecticut. Her name was Lucinda.
Lucinda is originally from Thomasville. Her mother was born beneath the shade of this exact tree. In fact, the Thomasville Oak is growing on Lucinda’s family land.
She and I became friends after that. Because that’s how special trees can be.
And as I write this, Lucinda’s family is gathered around her bedside because she is seriously ill. Her prognosis is not good. They are trying to make her comfortable.
I know Lucinda will read this because she reads everything I write. Because Lucinda is the kindest, sweetest human you’ll ever meet, and she has supported me from day one. And I love her.
Which is why I just wanted to say here, publicly, that I misspoke earlier, when I began this column. Trees are not the strongest things I have ever seen.
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is.