There’s no such thing as a tree hugger.
Think about it.
Have any of you out there ever screeched to a halt on the side of Rt. 144 in Richmond Hill (or anywhere else for that matter) and declared, "Hey, look Honey! There’s a guy in the middle of the field over there - an’ he’s huggin’ a tree! Quick, get the kids!"
Naw. Naw. Can’t see it.
I’m no tree hugger. In fact, I’m nowhere even close to being a tree hugger. Nor am I close to being a clear-cutter either. I think you might put me somewhere in the middle of the pile - like the rest of you.
Let me tell you how the story began…
Back in 1997, my wife and I were the first people to actually come off the street and buy property here at the "Ford." I am convinced, even today, that we bought the best piece of property offered. Six acres of prime dry flatland, butted up against a rambling Lake Sterling. Ended up putting a New England style boathouse on the place too - a "two kayak garage" as the wife calls it.
But it wasn’t easy. It didn’t come without a price. You see, there were "trees" on this acreage. Lots of ‘em.
When we first got here, you couldn’t take three steps across the property without sidestepping - bramble, thickets, thorns, fire ants, scrub-pine and sorghum. But wait! There were live oak in and amongst us!!!
A good friend of mine here at the Ford Plantation at that time was Jimmy Blige. He took care of the Ford place. Jimmy was a longstanding name in these parts. Coming in, I respected that. My job straight off was to listen.
Jimmy set me straight from day one about "not losing sight." Jimmy passed on two years ago, but I never forgot one of the things he laid down. He told me, that in yesteryear, a Georgian red squirrel could "hop" from limb to limb in a live oak all the way across the great State of Georgia without having to once drop to the ground. "Do you believe this?" I asked him. Jimmy just smiled. So, I believed him.
Close to 75 percent of my property was covered in lob lolly pine, or what most locals call "pulp" pine. My neighbors at this point had lobbied the Interior Department in Washington DC to place the pulp pine on my property on the endangered species list. "He’s cutting down all the trees," they cried. It was a battle.
Well, that didn’t fly with Interior. So - I cut them down.
What we did was an end ‘round and sold the pulp pine back to the paper company that planted them in the first place forty years ago. Is this a great country or what? My abutters are now reduced to sending Christmas cards to their friends in envelopes harvested from my property - but that’s another story.
Unless his name was "Rocky," there was no way that no squirrel could hop across my place without wings or even a VFR rating at the very least and still stay in a live oak. So, I set out to find out more about local live oak.
Wow. Are we blessed!
I started with the two most courageous trees in Richmond Hill. The two trees on my property. A Georgia historical survey conducted on the property told me that they were amongst the oldest on the Plantation - three hundred years plus! A wooden bridge now covers and protects their massive roots and we cleared surrounding trees, freeing them from light deprivation. They were being choked by future Christmas card envelopes!
These live oaks are beautiful. Old. Dead limbs along with live green boughs spread out across an entire half acre. Twelve kids couldn’t hold hands around either of their massive bases on May 1st. They were also historically plotted as central trees shading a Silk Hope Plantation "settlement" - and I won’t go further.
The second pair of remarkable live oak trees in Richmond Hill protect the current corner of Hwy. 17 and 144. They stand majestically in front of Baldino’s. Everyone reading this article will stop next to them at one time or another, sooner or later. Concrete and asphalt frame their root systems. Still, still - they hold true as if to say, "bring it on." Don’t ever again pass these stalwart tributes of timber without thanking them. They hold on for us - just for us. There is no corner of 17 & 144 without them.
You don’t have to hug them, just nod in respect as you pass.
For the rest of us, developers and homeowners alike, we plant live oak in every new compost pile we can muster as if to proclaim, "look at what fine people we are! We’re planting live oak! Look at how wonderful!"
In three hundred years, good people, they’ll all thank us for our vision. Three hundred years!
Or maybe we should just start by thanking the folks who planted the reverent ones that still grace us out there on the corner. Someone planted those beauties when Georgia was brand new - when Georgia was just a kid herself.
Live oak may still someday touch bough to bough in this great state. Red squirrels may yet again be giddy in flight.
So - thanks Jimmy for the heads up.