LEE ANNE GRACE: Gulf Coast’s oak tree remnants serve as important life lesson

By Lee Anne Grace

Several weeks ago I traveled along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I lived on the Coast 11 years ago, and had not been back to visit. I knew the area had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but nothing prepared me for being completely disoriented when I arrived. The contour of the shoreline was the same, as were the names of the streets, but that’s where the similarities ended.
Almost all landmarks that had been a part of my life were no longer in existence.
They had been replaced by an assortment of unfamiliar buildings and empty lots that were punctuated by stairs leading to nowhere.
The sense of loss became more pervasive as I noticed the absence of the live oak trees, their frames dripping with Spanish moss. All that remained of the gentle giants were their splintered trunks, a sobering reminder that the forces of nature can quickly bring down that which took hundreds of years to mature.
The early March weather was unseasonably warm, so a leisurely lunch on the patio of a seaside restaurant seemed to be in order. As my friends and I dined on fresh seafood, another gnarled remnant of a large tree caught our attention.
It was the lone occupant of a vacant lot behind the restaurant. There was something surprisingly different about this particular stump. Someone had carved the stump into two winged angels. A master artist had transformed something that was scarred beyond recognition and seemingly devoid of any value into something beautiful.
As I reflected upon the beauty of the carved angels, I was reminded how each of our lives can be found in the stumps of the mighty live oak trees. Most all of us have been bombarded by the storms of life: sometimes by a passing afternoon thunderstorm and other times by a raging Hurricane Katrina. There is frequently a temptation to let the remnants of the storm disintegrate, gradually returning to the elements with barely a whimper. It is then I consider that, much like the trees, we all have beauty that remains to be uncovered and carved out.
What are you doing with your life? Are you living in the past, mourning the stately oak you once were, lamenting the fact you got blown down? Is the debris of life’s storms clouding your vision of being healthy? Are you resigned to remain a remnant, resistant to the carving and whittling away to uncover something beautiful? The choice is yours, my friends.
Guardian Angel Tree
The idea of creating art from trees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina grew and spread in two years, from the Biloxi Bay Bridge all the way to Waveland, and now there are more than three dozen wood carvings along the beach.
They’ve become one of the top tourist attractions on the Coast and a symbol of the comeback of South Mississippi. The drive along U.S. 90 to see all of them takes locals and visitors over the new bridges, along the water and past homes that were rebuilt and waterfront lots still empty.
One artist working on new carvings is Dayle Lewis, a professional chain-saw artist from Richmond, Ind. He gave an old oak tree wings when he carved a pair of angels into a tree near the beach in Bay St. Louis.
“It became the Guardian Angel Tree,” said Lewis.
The story goes that 100 years ago a member of the DeMontluzin family kept the tree from being cut when the road was built, said Douglas Niolet.
“I guess she saved it for us,” Niolet said, because he and two others found their way to the oak and hung onto it for more than three hours during Hurricane Katrina. The tree died after the storm and the survivors and Lewis carved it into angels.
Lewis said many people have told him how much joy and spirit the tree has brought to Bay St. Louis.
Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.