OUTDOORS COLUMN: Having a chat with local flora

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

Just how old are you? How long have you stood here, in this precise location, your sprawling roots anchoring your massive bole and crown to the sandy soil? A hundred years, perhaps? Maybe more? The books might tell me, but right now I’m much too lazy for botanical research.

One thing’s certain, Mr. Live Oak. By human standards you are ancient.

Botanists tell me you and your kin thrive in the loose, sandy soil of the Southern Coastal Plain. Such growth medium is much to your liking. That must be true for you are huge. Not particularly tall, but massive. Neighboring pines and hickories dwarf you in height, but pale in comparison to your great circumference, girth attained through countless years of methodical absorption of sun, rain, and nutrient-rich subterranean minerals.

Historians say the strong, tough wood of your ancestral forebears was once widely used for maritime construction, and in the days of sailing ships our nation’s first publicly owned timber lands were live oak forests purchased for naval shipyards. If ships were still made of wood, you’d likely not be here to impress and inspire me. Your stout timbers would instead grace the hull or deck of some stately merchantman or man o’ war. Perhaps even the famous Old Ironsides.

But that didn’t happen and here you are, an old friend. You stand here as you’ve always stood, here at the field’s edge, your face to the sunny open expanse and your back to the dense, dark creek-swamp.

For 30 years of my own human lifespan, I’ve often rested beneath your spreading, drooping boughs. With your trunk as a backrest, I’ve watched your open field at dawn and dusk for feeding whitetails. Other times, 180 degrees around on your opposite side, I’ve silently eyed the shadowy woodland, marking gray squirrels and calling, most times fruitlessly, to wary gobblers.

Your ground-sweeping lower limbs and unique evergreen foliage that hide me from my fall and winter prey have also many times shaded my weary, worn-out human carcass from the pitiless assault of the hot Southern sun. You stoically and silently abide my presence whenever I shelter here for a drink, a bite to eat, or maybe even a short nap. Sometimes, while sitting here musing, I even think of trying to climb you, a notion always eventually dissuaded by my aging, aching joints.

Sometimes, conversing with friends, I refer to you as “My” oak tree. That’s not true, though, is it? No, I share your hospitality with others. Hundreds of creeping, crawling creatures reside in the nooks and crannies of your bark channels, a fact evidenced out by countless species of spiders and insects inadvertently carried home in the pockets and wrinkles of my clothing. Woodpeckers and nuthatches know you as a living cafeteria while other avian critters consider you the perfect roost or nursery. I once saw a big boar ’coon exit that hollow about halfway up your trunk. And, oh my, what is it about the Spanish moss hanging from your boughs that the chiggers like so much?

“Hey, look at that. One of those big black ants just picked up the last crumb from my sandwich and carried it into a hole under that root.”

Whoa! Wait a second. Did I say that aloud? Did I just talk to a tree? Must have. Else, why did that blue jay over there take off so suddenly? Aw, what the heck? Nobody’s around to hear me if I did and I long ago reconciled with my weirdness.

Might as well make it official …

“I gotta go now, Live Oak, old buddy. Thanks again for letting me sit here and ruminate a spell. See you next time, and watch out for those pesky chainsaws, you hear?

“Oh, by the way, I’m heading down to Florida in a few days. There’s a friendly sabal palm down there by a deep slough off the St. Johns River.

“Shall I give him your regards?”