Recently, when I received an email from an artist friend expressing concern for an old live oak in Menil Park, I wanted to help.
Bob has lived near the park for over 43 years and has long admired and appreciated this live oak he described as iconic. “This is the tree in Menil Park that everyone flocks to because it’s so beautiful,” he wrote.
Beautiful yes, but from the photographs Bob included, clearly, it was stressed. Big time.
Bob constantly sees people trying to ride their motorbikes into the tree. On limbs so long they rest on the ground, people stand at the very tips, jumping up and down like it’s a trampoline.
Some of the stress, Bob realized, was due to drought and age, but neither of these disturbed him the most. Bob constantly sees people trying to ride their motorbikes into the tree. Others splatter blue paint at its base or remove bark, exacerbating the loss already. On limbs so long they rest on the ground, people stand at the very tips, jumping up and down like it’s a trampoline.
“I think if they (Menil) put a fence around it,” Bob thought, “it would at least keep people from climbing it and knocking more bark off.”
Live Oaks 101
Last week, I met Bob at the Live Oak along with arborist, J.T. O’Keane with Arbor Care Inc. J.T. started kindly by giving us a crash course in Live Oaks 101 before offering his assessment of what ailed this one. Smooth patch (a bark fungus) was one ailment, he thought ganoderma (a parasitic fungus) another; however, other factors like water lines and sidewalk construction, etc. had contributed to the stress too.
He suggested that pruning the dead wood was the first priority. The rest? Basically, keeping it well watered and letting it run out its life. Which brings us back to Bob’s point.
After our meeting, I contacted someone at the Menil wanting to share Bob’s concern and his suggestion about the fence. The fellow suggested that I speak with their arborist, Steven Anderson, and eventually, I did.
According to Anderson, the live oak had suffered a lightning strike. “A very old lightning strike,” he said.
I also spoke with the Menil contact again. Placing signage by the live oak might be the best option he thought. He recalled one in Maine that read perfectly.
A tree in triage
As it is, Live Oak #84 remains a tree in triage. When I asked J.T. on a scale of 1-10 what the trees’ stress level was (10 being the worst) he said seven easily. Yet in spite of these various elements working against it, the fact that the live oak remains standing is in itself a tribute to live oaks.
In spite of these various elements working against it, the fact that the live oak remains standing is in itself a tribute to live oaks.
To those who are abusing this tree, please stop. Please, leave the motorbikes, the paint and your hands to yourself.
To the powers that be at the Menil, here’s my two cents.
Outside your museum there’s art, too. The Menil Park feeds the eye with massive doses of rich greens. Man-made things are minimal and have been carefully placed with forethought, thank you very much. The overall effect is purely positive. The grounds draw you in like a grandmother to her bosom, and, in a way, you do feel cradled. In a city chock-full of cars, concrete and construction, here lies relief and refreshment. It’s a green jewel worth protecting.
I like what a writer friend suggested. Why couldn’t the Menil commission an artist to build a creative fence around the Live Oak? Good idea, I thought. I know just the artist, too.