Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Across The Bridge: The Old Live Oak Trees of New Orleans

One of the best places in the world to see a concentration of great hoary and ancient live oaks is City Park, New Orleans. This past Saturday (October 17, 2015), two compadres and I made a little pilgrimage to behold them. When we asked a cop for directions, he pointed and suggested, "For those old trees? Try across the bridge" (-- a little bridge that takes tiny Anseman Avenue in the direction of City Park Avenue. I think the water the bridge spans is a sort of "oxbow" remnant of Bayou St. John.) 

City Park itself is larger than Central Park, and slightly older (1854 vs. 1857). Part of a greater parks movement supported by thoughtful civic leaders, City Park joined the ranks of other grand American locales such as the squares of Philadelphia and Savannah. In Chicago, Lake Park soon sprang into being (in 1860), later to be renamed Lincoln Park. On the West Coast, San Diego park space was set aside as early as the 1830s, while the great Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (which I sauntered and gamboled though in June) was developed in the 1870s.   
At play under the live oaks of City Park during the Union occupation of New Orleans, 1863. No matter what, the show must go on. From years ago, I remember stumbling across a petition by NOLA citizens to save the live oaks during wintertime in this period -- Union officers were apparently swayed not to let their men cut them down for firewood.  
The flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 did great damage to the denizens of City Park. Hundreds of trees were lost, as well as the contents of the botanical garden. However, most of the ancient live oaks live on a rise that was not drowned by the flooding. The bigger ones that remain in 2015 range in age from about 150 to 800 years old. For more information about City Park (including efforts to restore it after Katrina) here is a link.  
The oldest and biggest live oaks in City Park have names: for example, the McDonogh Oak, Anseman Oak, Allard Plantation Oak (the tract had been part of this plantation), Colony Grove Oak, Dueling Oaks and Suicide Oak (don't ask, don't tell).

The woman in this picture is relaxing in a massive low-lying branch of (I'm almost certain) the McDonogh Oak, just beyond the Owen/Butler Memorial Fountain (1910, 1929). She's reading a book, for sure, but I didn't ask her which one. The green-bronze statue in the foreground is Chloe, a nymph - i.e., Chloé, the water nymph. Can you dig?   

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I knew nothing about all these amazing trees before, nor about City Park, actually. Now I have one more compelling reason (besides food) to make a trip to New Orleans someday.

jodi said...

Erik-I have a similar mermaid statue in my front yard!