Cathedral Alfresco

Having grown up in the land of big timber, the Pacific Northwest, I’m not easily awed by trees. In Georgia, pines soar to great heights, oaks are sturdy, and magnolias, well, magnificent. But they don’t quite match up to the old-growth Douglas fir and Sitka spruce that adorn the coastal mountains of my Fatherland.

Well, with one exception. I took some time last week to commune with the great live oaks that dot the Georgia coast. I was on St. Simons Island attending the annual Southeastern Writers Association Workshop at Epworth By The Sea and meeting with my literary agent, Jeanie Pantelakis of Sullivan Maxx.

I’ve mentioned this before. It’s HOT in southern Georgia in the summer. I mean tropical hot. Sure, there’s a sea breeze in the afternoons, but all that means is that it’s 90F instead of 95F. So, to escape the p.m. steam bath, I would get up before sunrise to go for a walk–my way of trying to keep my flab at bay, and at the same time generating an excuse for an extra sausage link at breakfast. (I think that’s a zero sum game.)

Along my route, huge live oaks draped in thick layers of Spanish moss lined a quiet lane. It was as though I were striding through an open-air cathedral, so massive were the trees, so profuse, the moss.

I stopped one morning to examine an elderly oak more closely. It would have taken four or five men with arms outstretched to encircle its trunk. The lower limbs were so thick and heavy they literally rested on the earth. The tree had likely existed there from the time Epworth was a cotton plantation and after that, a lumber mill. I’m told live oaks are the only thing that will survive a hurricane. In fact, I make reference to that in EYEWALL.

The immense trees make fine homes for raccoons, too, but I didn’t spot one that morning. Perhaps he (or she) was hidden in the dense cloak of Spanish moss that drooped from the oak’s branches, themselves the size of small trees, in long, gray “icicles.”

I patted the tree on its trunk, continued my walk through the cathedral alfresco and uttered a thank you to God.

Photo: Spanish Moss
Spanish Moss is a common sight in the Deep South where it festoons trees in thick, drooping tendrils.  (Photo from

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