Galveston Rising ~ The Trees

As the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Ike’s September 13 landfall approaches, most Galveston homeowners who still are engaged in rebuilding and reconstruction don’t need any reminders about the complexity or frustrations of the process.  Still, reminders are everywhere, posted primarily by high-minded attorneys concerned that the poor, benighted people of the Texas Coast understand the statute of limitations and its role in ensuring they receive fair and just compensation for their losses.

There’s nothing wrong with a gentle reminder, or with fair settlements for that matter.   But this is America, and contingency fees being what they are the attorneys’ messages have taken on a distinctly apocalyptic tone.  Every local freeway and road that skirts the water has at least one of the fervent billboards: The end is near!  Are you prepared?  Time is Running Out!  The door is closing!  (Request a free case review now!!!)

Reading them, it’s impossible not to think of tent revivals and tv hucksters.  The billboard advertisers seem to suggest they can save our psyches and mop up lingering insurance messes with the legal equivalent of the ShamWow, but Galveston residents aren’t naive. There are some problems no amount of legal wrangling – or money – can solve.

As the remnants of Ike headed north, the problems he left behind were obvious. Within hours, the cleanup began. Within days, reconstruction was being planned. Over the coming months, debris disappeared, houses were re-built and businesses re-established as people waited, holding their breath to see how the trees would respond.

Galveston’s trees were her pride. Many had been planted after the Great Storm of 1900 decimated the island, and for decades their growth contributed to the exquisite beauty of the historic neighborhoods.  Broadway, the primary route to the beaches and seawall, was famed for its trees as much as for the Victorian homes that line its route. 

Many of the historic live oaks were left standing after Ike, albeit without their leaves. Denuded, they gave the island the appearance of the midwest in winter, a strange and unsettling sight for residents accustomed to year-long greenery. Throughout the long, island winter, people waited for spring and watched the trees, desperate for a first sign of growth.  In the end, what the wind was not able to destroy, the storm surge did. Salt-saturated soils, denied any natural flushing through a terrible, post-hurricane drought, could not be overcome. Nearly 40,000 trees had died, and they would need to be taken down.

The experience was traumatic beyond the telling of it.  People wept, argued with local officials, bargained with God and swore to everyone within earshot that their tree was the exception – that it was strong enough, determined enough to live.  Not only the 1900 Storm oaks were at issue. People had planted trees for children, spouses, neighbors and neighborhoods and watched them grow. Their pain at the thought of losing them was nearly unbearable. “Like everybody else, it just makes me want to cry,” said Steve Broadstone, 68. “It’s just like cutting off an arm or a leg.”

The City did what it could, putting off the removal of the Broadway trees until the very end, knowing the kind of wound it would inflict into an already suffering community. Some people became paralyzed by the thought of it all. Some moved from the island, bitter because of the drastic and irrevocable changes that had come. But others, more resiliant, more creative or perhaps simply more desperate, began to think: “What if…”  What if some of the wood could be saved? What if it could be put to other uses? What if some of it could be preserved in some way and become part of Galveston’s heritage?

Eventually, the questions began to be answered, and quite remarkably, not a sliver of the first 10,000 trees removed ended in a landfill.  Quentin Snediker, shipyard director at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut, arrived in Galveston to hand-pick trees to be used in the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 whaling ship. Wood turners began producing bowls and objects d’art for local galleries. And some homeowners, contemplating the remains of their trees, recognized their unusual potential.

Galveston artist Earl Jones, Houston’s Jim Phillips and Dayle Lewis of Richmond, Indiana soon became the chainsaw-and-chisel crew responsible for one of the most delightful post-hurricane transformations possible. Working primarily in Galveston’s East End, they turned homeowners’ deeply personal visions into a gallery of public art.  The mermaid and conch shell at the top of this page is a detail from Jones’ larger sculpture at 9th and Ball, representing Elizabeth Wilson’s children.

 Just down the street, an equally intricate carving contains a dolphin, a dorado and a moray eel, a particularly nice tribute to the abundance of life found in Gulf waters. (No amount of looking turned up a Portuguese Man-O-War or other jellies among the carvings, even though toads and ladybugs clustered around some trunks. Apparently not everything is worth preserving in wood.)

Not every carving is obviously related to Island life. The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz is found at the East End birthplace and home of King Vidor, the American film director who directed the Kansas scenes in the 1939 movie but never earned screen credit. Not far away, a lovely and dignified geisha stands watch.

Not only humans love their trees, of course. Both artists and patrons paid their respects to other creatures who lost homes and landmarks when Ike scoured the neighborhoods.  A squirrel, an owl and a Great Dane all long for their trees and provide a smile in the process. Seeing the dog in person, it’s impossible to keep from laughing out loud at the sight, and nearly impossible not to look around to see if his master might be coming down the block.



As for native birds, they are among the most elegant and graceful of the sculptures. A pair of great blue herons, a pelican with his portion of fish, another pelican flying nearly free with his seagull companion ~ these have become treasured representatives of the flocks now finding new homes between the Gulf and the Bay. As the marshes renew and the rich, teeming waters around the island recover, the air resounds with the chitter and cries of seabirds while the egret and heron step through their pools, patient and purposeful as ever.



There are, of course, the traditionalists, those who feel a true memorial requires a certain seriousness, a statement of fact in order to be complete. On Winnie Street there stands such a monument. Simple and direct as any gravestone, absent any date of birth but bearing for all to see the date of death, it proclaims its fact: In Memoriam ~ Galveston’s Lost Oaks ~ September 13, 2008.  The irony, of course, is that the memorialized trees were themselves planted by a generation which had suffered great loss at the hands of a nameless hurricane. The thought gives pause, just as it gives hope to a community charged with re-planting for future generations, even in the face of storms yet to come. 


Finally, there are the angels.  One, solitary, holds a tiny rabbit in her hands. This pair, known as the Sister Angels, seem as contemplative as the heron is alert. Lost in admiration, I didn’t notice the passer-by who stopped until he spoke.  “I walk by here and look at them every day,” he said. “We think of them as our angels, the angels who protect the Island.  I think when the next disaster arrives, they’ll  fold us into their wings and keep us safe.”

Perhaps they will.  I hope they do.


Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below. 

35 thoughts on “Galveston Rising ~ The Trees

  1. A remarkable post, as always, Linda. This example of beauty and art from disaster is more uplifting than I can explain.

    There was a 24-hour period nearly two years ago when the economy tanked that I felt desperately hopeless. I saw what it was doing to our already poor English department, and I was hearing things like, “universities will never be the same.” Then, the next day, talking with and advising students, something began to emerge, and I encouraged students to write and create art out of the hardship that was ensuing. I might have mentioned this to you before, since you are such a strong voice for those who suffer and keep reaching to survive.


    One of my favorite quotations is from Robert Frost. He says, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned in life: It goes on.”

    Devastating hurricane? University funding cuts? Oil Spill? Unexpected trauma of any sort? Life goes on. Always we have a choice about how to engage those changes – after all, there were people who left Galveston Island, saying, “No more of this, thank you very much.”

    This morning I see what I hadn’t yet seen when I posted this piece. We are the ones who decide how to shape the circumstances in front of us. I understand the people who said, “Just get those trees out of here – I can’t stand to look at them”. But I love the people who said, “We’re going to keep our portion of the ugliness, and transform it into beauty.”


  2. My wife studied tai chi for a while, and one of its definitions came to mind as I read your post and looked at the photos.

    “Tai chi chuan is the study of appropriate change in response to outside forces; the study of yielding and “sticking” to an incoming attack rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force.”

    There was a time, centuries actually, when we thought we could dominate and conquer nature. But every year brings another hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, or tsunami to remind us that our best defense in the face of these overwhelming forces is to yield and stick. It seems as though the artistic community — and the city of Galveston in general — somehow knew to do just that. The results are humbling and inspiring at the same time. Thank you for presenting this story so beautifully.


    One of the things Galveston has going for it is its own history. After the storm of 1900, they didn’t simply clean things up and plant those lovely oaks, they raised the entire island. It was a long, hard process that required as much of the populace as the engineers, but they did it. I wrote about it earlier, and you can see some of the remarkable photos in Raise High the Floor Beam, Islanders.

    What’s also interesting is that Indianola, Texas nearly became our most important port. Unfortunately for Indianola, it was hit by back-to-back hurricanes (1875 and 1886) and never came back. But many of the people who lived there and survived the storms moved on to Galveston, and their experiences no doubt helped Galveston cope with the aftermath of the 1900 storm.

    As for yielding and sticking, the phrase reminds me of something a B.O.I. (Born on the Island) woman said to me once: “Surviving a hurricane is easy. You run from water, hide from wind, and then you rebuild.”

    Well, of course.


  3. What a great story. Thanks!

    I did a little Googling and found some more pictures including one of the dog with, sadly, a missing paw. A sign had been added which reads:

    $50 for Dog’s Hand
    $500 for Hand of THIEF

    Photo of Dog with Missing Paw

    (Though I have to say that I think the dog looks less like a Great Dane and more like, perhaps, a Weimaraner.)

    Al Cyone,

    I agree with you about the dog. Perhaps it’s the paint, but Weimaraner crossed my mind, too.

    I’m just astonished – and angered – by the vandalism. Either it’s just happened or was repaired before I began my own explorations, but as recently as two weeks ago he was whole. I’m not the violent sort, but I certainly appreciate the spirit of the sign.

    Many thanks for stopping by, and for the kindness of a comment. You’ll welcome any time.


      1. roadsidenut,

        How wonderful! Thanks so much for linking to your photo. Despite all my trips down there, I’d never seen the real dog – this just makes the story even better. You might enjoy seeing him all dressed up for Mardi Gras.

        I’m anxious to prowl your site. I wish I could do some traveling myself, but it’s not possible just now. So – vicarious pleasures it will be!


  4. What a wonderful respite from all the stories we read about activities relating to the Gulf. The pictures are remarkable. The artistry of the sculptures stands on its own. Makes me want to come to Galveston to see for myself. Great post Linda, keep up the good work.

    Uncle Roger,

    After a few entries about the Gulf situation, I felt my own need for a respite. It was nice to move on and find a different focus. This was fun to put together, and it pleases me immensely that you enjoyed it, too.

    Some of the sculptures appear very much the same in real life as in the photos – the geisha’s a good example. Others need to be walked around. The sister angels and the collection of birds that includes the flying pelican just need to be seen in person. It would be wonderful if you could do that.

    Here’s a list that’s fairly complete. Because they’re clustered in the East End, a couple of hours will let you see them all, and there are some real gems not included here, like the Dalmatian and the huge fire plug down by the firehouse! And people want you to look. The owner of the dorado, eel and dolphin was out in his yard with his circular saw early one Sunday morning, and he was happy to let me in the gate and show me around. Meeting the people was as much fun as seeing the sculptures!

    Thanks for stopping by. A pleasure, to be sure.


  5. I wait with anticipation each of your well-crafted pieces…mine are essentially first drafts…and this one didn’t disappoint.

    I love what people did, changing their lemons into lemonade. Here and there around Fort Lauderdale are similar sculptures like those in Galveston, but not many. One of them is a manatee outside the world-famous Southport bar on Cordova Road not too far from where I used to live. (It really IS world famous, too. When I landed in Antibes, France years ago, one of the Southport’s bumper stickers was affixed to the front door.)

    In my hometown of Orleans, Mass., Main Street, into the early 50s, was lined with stately elm trees. Not as majestic in my mind as the live oak but certainly notable enough. Then they were struck down by the dreaded Dutch Elm disease and disappeared. Nothing as creative as the transformation of the oaks in Galveston was done but the elms were replaced by Japanese cherry trees which give the town a rather festive air in the Spring time.

    South Florida experienced a terrible disaster through the 60s with the spread of the palm blight “Lethal Yellowing” that effectively killed all of the native Florida coconut palms from Key West up to their northern range at about Stuart. All gone. There was no way of knowing if these stately trees which soared sometime to 100 feet were infected until they began to exhibit symptoms and then it was too late. The green fronds turned yellow and fell off leaving nothing but the forlorn trunk as a mute testament as to what had stood before. All the coconut trees in south Florida now are Malaysian palms which were resistant to the blight. Not nearly as regal as the ones they replaced at all.


    I’ve not heard the words “Dutch Elm disease” in a good while, but you’re right. It was – is – dreaded, and dreadful. Here in Texas it’s oak wilt that causes the problems. Red oaks are particularly susceptible, white oaks not so much. The live oaks will go, but individual trees can be resistant.

    Despite the loss of so many trees, only 60% of the island’s live oaks perished. On the other hand, only 3% of the palms were lost, and you can bet there’s a good bit of palm planting going on! Actually, there’s one side effect to the transition from oak to palm that’s quite interesting – but that’s for another post.

    I love the Southport bumper sticker story. Once upon a time, I had a similar experience, wandering into Foxy’s in Jost van Dyke and discovering someone had been there from Maribelle’s, our token famous bar here on Galveston Bay. (Well, famous pre-Ike, anyhow. It was washed away. The building was painted the worst pink you can imagine, and you could spot her boards here and there for months.)

    I’ve never seen coconut palms around here, but they do grow around Brownsville/South Padre Island. When I lived in Liberia, the hostel where I stayed in Monrovia had a beach filled with them. Give a kid a nickle and he’d climb straight up that tree and throw down two or three. Good stuff.


  6. Dear Linda,

    I’m happy to pass the Dardos Award onto you from Escucho atentamente. Hope you like it. The Premio Dardos is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values. This is my way of showing my affection and gratitude for you and your wonderful writing.


    How very kind! Coming from you it’s especially meaningful, as I’ve always found your blog a remarkable combination of beauty and values. I’ve learned much from you about how to use images in the context of a blog, so it’s especially appropriate that you should bring me such a gift today.

    I’ve browsed a few of the other blogs you mentioned, and look forward to spending a bit more time with them. It’s such a wonderful way to find new treasures, especially since I don’t easily browse Google en español.

    Estoy tan agradecido por un mundo más pequeño con la palabra y la imagen – lo mejor para ti, y otra vez, muchas gracias.


  7. Linda,
    Thank you for this tragic and heartwarming story. And for all the photos. Are the people of Galveston planting more perhaps more salt-resistant trees? Trees are such a special gift to us here.


    As a matter of fact, I’ve read – and seen – that a higher proportion of palms are being planted as replacement trees. They do quite well in salty conditions, and fit in quite nicely in an island environment. Some very large live oaks already have been planted, as well as red oak, hackberry and a multitude of other species.

    For a nice overview, you can see the Galveston Tree Conservancy’s public facebook page here. They’ve been at the forefront of the planting effort.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. You’re always welcome!


  8. Linda,
    The human spirit triumphs over and over again. I don’t know why, but I’m always amazed at the creative and unique ways people turn their lemons into lemonade, how they leave their own mark in the wake of disaster. How far we fall and how far we reach. This was a beautiful post, Linda.


    I’ve learned since posting this entry that there’s more lemonade being made than I realized. The fellow who created the pod of dolphins with the conch shell-blowing mermaid did carving in New Orleans after Katrina, and has carvings along the Mississippi coast. I’ve been told that another angel is in a little town just down the road from me, and that there’s a heron across Galveston Bay near Anahuac.

    They are all wonderful tokens of hope and tenacity. I love them nearly as much as I love the memorial to the victims of the 1900 storm. One of the iconic photos of Ike was captured by a Houston Chronicle photographer who probably wished he was somewhere else at the time. It shows the 1900 Memorial on the seawall surrounded by Ike’s waves and surge. I hope I never see any photos of the trees in the same situation!

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the post – I thought you might.


  9. Fantastic post, Linda. That pic of the dog leaning on the iron fence made me laugh – sad to hear from one of your reader’s that his paw is missing now. Your story gives me hope for your part of the world’s current crisis. You’re a resourceful and creative bunch!


    Glad you liked it! I’ve made a few phone calls and been told (1) the dog’s paw is still missing or (2) the dog’s paw has been repaired. This requires crack investigative journalism, don’t you think? Tomorrow or Thursday I’ll drive down to Galveston and see for myself. It’s going to be beastly hot so I’ll have a couple of hours in the middle of the day when I’d not be working anyway. I can’t stand not knowing about the paw myself. The darned critter’s lifelike as can be – when I was taking pics of him I had to resist the urge to scratch his ears.

    Resourceful and creative is on target. Add tenacious, practical, fun-loving and gracious, and you have the very definition of a Galvestonian, whether Born On the Island or Islander by Choice.

    One dog-paw update coming up in the near future…. :-)


  10. Where there is ART, there is life. Great bit of journalism. Am always heartened by how you find what makes people good. Keep shining. And, congratulations on the Premio Dardos.


    And of course, where there is life, there is art. Sometimes it seems as strong a driving force as survival itself. It’s interesting, and worth pondering tht while no one is “making art” in the very heart of the hurricane, soporific afternoons aren’t necessarily a better environment for creativity. A little tension, a little challenge, a little “push” from the world seems to be more conducive to the emergence of art.

    I do love finding the good, however loosely defined. On the other hand, while we still were involved in blog-warming all those months ago, I’d never really considered the possibilities for heart-warming. ;-)

    Thanks for the congrats. Coming from eMi, it’s especially nice. If you haven’t peeked at her site you should – it’s lovely.


  11. Linda, these images are absolutely astounding. What a gift of craftsmanship to carve such beautiful and diverse things — and really, what a tribute.

    I always shudder with hurricane alerts, knowing of “new friends” in the targeted areas, and really — even when one knows no one, what havoc it wreaks. I’ve only dealt with severe flooding once and it was once enough for me, just resulting in basement water and tossing a bunch of stuff that should have been tossed long ago anyway. Parting is hard, but really, no major damage done to structure. To see the aftermath of hurricanes or tornadoes always breaks my heart.

    On a related note, did you hear the NPR story on Faulkner this morning (Thurs.) — and then search Faulkner if you missed it. Thought of you and your posts last year. Right? Last year?


    Hurricanes are awful, but flooding’s much different than I had imagined it. I always thought, “OK. So everything gets wet, youu dry it out and keep on trucking.” Well, except for the mud, sewage, debris and the mold that starts to grow in about five minutes. I’ve never seen such a mess as after TS Allison. And of course the fantasy is that you can salvage this or that – and eventually, it does have to be thrown out. So sad.

    I didn’t know how much of this kind of carving was going on around the country – and even in “my” neighborhood. Apparently there’s another angel done by the same fellow who did the Sister Angels in a little town not even ten miles from here. (I’m going out searching this weekend!) And I have a wonderful pelican sitting right here beside me – his name is Wordsworth, and he was a birthday gift. He’s about two feet tall and has a truly baleful look in his eye. He has one advantage over a carved tree – he can be carted out of the surge zone in the event of a storm.

    Thanks for the tip on Faulkner – I’ll listen, for sure. I can’t remember myself when I was writing about Faulkner – probably was last summer. But that’s ok – he’s my fav, for sure!


  12. Linda – what a great story. People took the devastation of losing the beautiful trees and completely turned it around. It reminds me of many things, as your essays usually do. My daughter and son-in-law had to take down a beautiful, abundant avocado tree in their backyard so they could add on to their itty bitty house to hold children. The whole family mourned the loss of that tree. My son-in-laws father does wood working as a hobby. Delightfully he created a bowl for everyone in the family out of the wood from that avocado tree. So a piece of it is with us always….and it does sooth the loss.

    We are losing a tree in our backyard right now. It officially died this past spring…when we realized the leaves were not returning. We denied it for a couple of years, even though we knew we were losing it. We tried a few things, to no avail. We bought this tree at a nursery in town that doesn’t even exist anymore. It was just a small tree – just over 7 feet and skinny as can be. Our youngest wasn’t even born yet. When our youngest moved on from Kindergarten, the teacher had made ‘wind chimes’ (kid created) for the volunteers….I was one. I hung it from that tree.

    We began the painful cutting down last weekend. We took down about 4 branches on Monday. We actually had to cut the ‘wind chime’ off the branch, as it was on that branch for 23 years…the bark completely grew over the rope that it hung from.

    We’ve decided that we are going to keep the trunk and place a wooden top and make it an outside table…sort of bar stool high. I hope it works out.

    Now the good part of losing the tree is that we have so much more sunshine in our backyard – hence I can now have a garden. The tree, a liquid amber, was so full during the summer that our entire backyard was shrouded in shade. Great for summer heat, not so great for trying to grow veggies. So there is always a bright side…I guess.

    I do have one question….were all the carvings done on trees where they stood? In other words, not carved and then placed where they stand?


    An answer to your question first – most of the carving are “in place”. In fact, if you look at the mermaid and pod of dolphins, you can see the debris from the carving process around the base. I think there might be three or four – like the sister angels – that are on the place where the tree was, but they’ve been separated from the base.. Many of them are carved so that the base is an integral part of the piece, but I didn’t always show that in the pics.

    It does make a big difference, light-wise. As a matter of fact, there’s a “sister entry” that goes along with this one that’s about the light in Galveston now. I’m looking forward to writing that one, too. – and taking some more photos!

    It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the fact that trees and plants have life-spans, too. They seem so permanent, but they aren’t. Of course, the ones which last the longest are the slowest-growing, so there’s a trade-off when you’re trying to replace lost trees. I made the mistake of fertilizing the first cactus I had. It grew like crazy, but died in about five years. That’s when I learned that forcing growth can mean hastening death!

    Anyway, from the looks of your veggie garden, losing the tree brought some real benefits. As the old saying goes, you can have everything, you just can’t have it all at once!


  13. I also meant to add that we will save most of the wood to use as campfire wood. So that tree will have gone full cycle…providing beauty, shade and then warmth! However, it’s still a loss to me :(


    They become friends, don’t they? And it’s so sad to see them go, naturally or not. I’ve known people who have nursed along old trees for two or three years, but finally there’s just no stopping the natural progression of things. Maybe if you tell a story or two about the tree around the campfire, it’ll feel better!


  14. A tree has a hard life. Even in clement times it must endure the elements. If it doesn’t fall prey to an herbivore, it must contend with fungus, ants and termites. If it doesn’t succumb to a hurricane, it may be taken down by an ice storm or forest fire. Then there are the hazards for which evolution could not prepare it: humans wielding herbicides, chainsaws and bulldozers.

    I’m thinking these statues face a perilous future, too, sitting outdoors in a semitropical maritime environment. Their owners had better keep the varnish fresh! You, of all people, should know more than most about protective coatings and weathering of wood.

    The human factor also applies here. These statues exist in an urban environment — as exemplified by the maimed Weimaraner. This story reminds me of the wacko who dumped Velpar on the Treaty Oak in Austin a generation ago. Artisans were keen to bid on wood from the portion of the tree that had to be pruned away.


    It will be interesting to watch, as some have coatings and some don’t. If I had one in my yard, I’d leave it uncoated, and let it weather. I think they’re all from oak, and should do fine. Now, granted, after some years they’ll show signs of wear, but I wouldn’t mind that. It seems more appropriate to let them just “be” as artifacts from the storm than to turn them into “art”. I am curious about the dog – if that’s a gray marine paint, it should weather better than anything. Ironic that the carving best protected from the elements should have taken the first whack from humans.
    I’m awfully glad it was repaired and that his paw is fine (see separate comment).

    I remember the vandalism at the Treaty Oak. I went snooping and learned it produced its first crop of acorns post-poisoning in 1997 – just eight yers after the dirty deed. Nature is wondeful.

    As for the Galveston carvings, given the circumstances, I think the “creating” is more important than the “creation”. When I look at them, I admire the skill of the carvers, but it’s the determination to transform loss that’s so inspiring. Eventually, some of these carvings probably will disappear for one reason or another – but they’re serving their purpose now.


  15. SUPERB!!

    I always come and read your WP offerings, but don’t always comment, but this one has spurred me to “put pen to paper”.
    It is so beautifully written: insightful, full of emotion without being sentimental, honest and respectful.

    I can’t begin to imagine how the folk of Galveston felt, but the people who live in ‘Seven Oaks’ Kent can go some way to imagining their grief.
    After the 1987 hurricane here in the UK, (the only one we have really experienced,) the seven oaks that gave the town its name were badly damaged. Only one could be saved, the rest had to come down. Six new trees have been planted, and are beginning to grow, although it will take a hundred years to get back to where the originals were….

    But like the Phoenix rising, the oaks live on – both in Galveston and in Kent.


    There are two things I really can’t abide in this kind of writing – hysteria and sentimentality. It makes me so happy to see you say “full of emotion without being sentimental”. In my view, that’s very high praise, indeed. ;-)

    The Treaty Oak Bogon referenced was part of a grove, too. Like your tree, it was the sole survivor of a variety of forces, and its human friends had to help it along. I’m so glad your six were replanted. I still can’t quite get over the fact that the trees destroyed by Ike were planted by survivors of the 1900 storm. As a Galvestonian I know said, “We don’t wish any ill at all to these trees we’re planting, but if it must come, we certainly hope it won’t be for another century!” I hope the same is true for the Kent Oaks.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the wonderful historical analogy!


  16. Linda,

    I didn’t know about the loss of all those lovely trees. But I’m glad the people of Galveston found a way to give them a new lease on life.

    It sort of reminds me of the planting of memorial stones in the book of Genesis — with no Bible near by, I recall it was mostly Abraham and his sons and grandsons that did this. They’d move from one place to another, but before leaving, they’d plant a tower of stones in memory of their time there.

    The tree trunk art makes a fine memorial. Next trip, I’ll have to come see…



    I’m a little surprised you didn’t know about them. I guess I assumed you would, because of your gardening interests and roots in the area. But like politics, maybe all hurricane concerns are local, and it’s a good way from Galveston to areas down the coast.

    One of the little ironies is that the big trees were the most obvious loss, but they also were the ones who left “something to work with”. So many people lost trees that were younger and smaller – they lost their shade and beauty without being able carve a memorial. But there’s plenty of tree planting going on – with substantial donations from corporations and such for larger trees – and the Galveston Tree Conservancy has done absolutely wondrous work in starting the process of replanting.

    It will take time, but it won’t take forever. I planted a camphor tree that was just a two-foot whip about ten years ago. I shaped it for the first two years, and now it’s a beautiful tree higher than a two-story building. Trees like that will provide some fill-in while the oaks are taking hold – and the palms they’re planting are rather nice, too!

    I hope you do make the side trip next time you’re down. It’s well worth it – and there’s a lot of gorgeous architecture to look at, too.



    A quick trip to Galveston late yesterday afternoon confirmed what I hoped – the dog whose paw was lopped off has been made whole.

    Apparently, the vandalism took place before I took his photo. If you look at the picture closely, you can see the repair as a straight line across his arm. In person, if you didn’t know to look for it, you wouldn’t even notice it. All is well ;-)

  18. Hi Linda,
    So happy I finally got to come here and read this story. As many before me have stated, you have a beautiful way with your writing that makes the reader feel the story. Now I want to go to Galveston and see these wood carvings.
    Thank you for sharing your stories with us.



    The best thing about going to see the carvings is that the people who commissioned them WANT you to see the carvings! They’re fully aware that putting a spectacular carving in their front yard is going to mean strangers with cameras standing around the edge of their property. But the only “trouble” I’ve heard of was the vandalism with the dog’s paw. Otherwise, everyone has seemed very respectful, and careful not to cause damage by doing things like tromping through flower beds.

    More than that, the carvings really seem to belong to the neighborhoods that contain them, if not the whole city. Everyone who saw me looking and photographing seemed eager to chat, answer questions or just share the experience. One day there were an amazing number of folks in cars and on foot, clutching little lists and generally enjoying themselves. It was rather like a block party!

    You would have such fun. My recommendation is that you get yourself over here, we go see them in the morning before it gets too hot, and then go to the Sunflower bakery and cafe for a nice Mimosa brunch ;-)


  19. Such beauty out of such devastation. And, as always, such exquisite writing. This does give force to the resiliency of the human spirit. A lesson that can be carried forth in so many ways. Thank you.


    Resiliency is a fine quality. As a matter of fact, the ability to bend but not break is what allows a lot of trees to survive a lot of storms.

    I’m not really a fan of country music, but since Tanya Tucker released “Strong Enough to Bend” in 1988, it’s been one of my favorites.
    It still is, and it’s what the people of Galveston are all about.


  20. Geez, that photo of the house with the sawed-off tree in front of it and then the stone bench in front of that is just…perfect. Tells so many stories at once. Stopped me in my tracks, of all the pictures you included.

    I feel that reading blogs from around the world tells me more, reminds me more, smacks my global consciousness upside the head more than any other reading I do (certainly trumps the media, of which I am a part so I do not say this lightly!)

    Thanks for wrapping us up in the realities that from a distance might otherwise fade…and must not!


    I was thrilled to find that uncarved tree trunk to include. It’s part of the story, too. At some point, someone said, “No, leave it there. Stop cutting.” I like that. And can’t you just imagine a family out on the porch in the evening, talking over what it should be? It’s pure potential at this point – before the storm, it was a tree. Now, who knows that it will be?

    There’s no question that bloggers and independent journalists have important roles to play in understanding the issues of the day. There’s plenty of rumor-mongering and bad information among the independents, too, but learning how to sift through information and developing a few critical thinking skills isn’t a bad thing. As I’ve listened to questions asked by the mainstream media at BP’s technical briefings, I’ve been appalled. Questions are asked that just were answered five minutes earlier. Some questions have been asked and answered repeatedly in earlier briefings or simply reveal the questioners lack of understanding about basics of the situation, even though the information has been freely available.

    If I’ve learned anything through the BP disaster, it’s that writing about complex situations in an understandable and appealing way is even harder than I imagined when I wrote my “paradigm for blogging” nearly two years ago. What chutzpah! But I was right in putting together reading, writing and thinking – too much writing with too little thought and research doesn’t help anyone.


  21. Glad to hear about the dog’s paw. I just took another critical look at your photos, this time concentrating on the background (I often do that with photos) and the homes in the background are JUST beautiful. So much character! I love them and would love to live in one!


    The homes are beautiful, and the Galveston Historical Foundation does a splendid job of assisting people who want to restore them. There are an assortment of programs and tax incentives, but one of the things that intrigues me most is that they maintain a stash of architectural antiques from area homes. If you’re restoring for authenticity and need a doorknob from an old Galveston house – you have a place to go!

    My new post has a few more pics of houses. And one day, when I really have some time, I want to do a post about Galveston’s architecture. There are some of the most beautiful homes in the world there – not huge, but just lovely.


  22. Sad and beautiful.


    Little by little, “beautiful” is overtaking “sad”. The experience of seeing it all wiped away was sad, and worse. But today? People are proud of what’s happening, proud to show off “their trees (even if they’re in the neighbor’s yard) and generally hopeful that their new trees will have chance to get established before the next storm shows up.

    Trees can take storms, for the most part. As a little girl I know says, Ike was “special”. ;-)

    Thanks so much for stopping by. You’re always welcome!


  23. What a marvellous show of ingenuity and resilience. That the creative spirit and zest of life can rise above catastrophe is evident to all. Looking at the picture of those beautiful and majestic oaks, a thought (and a poem) just came to me. While men can salvage what’s left of them and even create beauty, only God can make a tree.


    Can you believe it? I never thought of Kilmer’s poem while writing this. But your point is well taken. The creation is given, and sometimes the creation is taken away, but in either event we have the opportunity to celebrate the gifts we’ve been given – even the gifts inherent in loss.

    I’ve known people whose response to having that tree trunk next to their front window would be to cut it to the ground, dig out the stump and pretend it never existed. To me, that’s sadder than the initial loss. I’d rather grieve occasionally but keep the memories than never grieve but cut myself off from the past.


  24. A wonderful post, and a personal connection for two reasons: 1) I live in CT and didn’t know about Mystic Seaport’s use of the trees (!), and (2) transforming the trees into sculptures definitely appeals to my love of art!


    Here’s a nice blog entry – with animation – about the removal of the trees. It was unbelievably helpful to many Galvestonians to know that some of their beloved trees would take on new life in a different kind of restoration work.

    Speaking of personal connections, the son-in-law of a good friend has worked on a number of historic vessels at Mystic Seaport, including the Amistad and Charles W. Morgan. He’s a caulker, and apparently quite skilled in the use of oakum. Varnishers and caulkers – now there are some dying breeds!

    And yes – the sculptures definitely are art. The fellows who did them aren’t hacking out pelicans by the dozen for the local flea markets!


  25. I’m so glad you wrote about the repurposing (as they say nowadays) of Galveston’s dead trees; somehow over here in Austin I never heard about it. I hope the Galveston tourist bureau has created something like a tour of the tree sculptures, or at least made available a map so people can go on a self-guided tour.

    I think you’ll be happy to know that our word tree evolved from the Indo-European root deru- (or dreu-), which seems originally to have meant ‘to be firm, solid, steadfast’ (thank you, American-Heritage Dictionary). The same Indo-European root has given us the word true: to be true to something is to be steadfast in support of it.

    As for not oak but oakum, it’s hardly a word that non-boating-I run into very often, but by coincidence we watched the 1948 version of Oliver Twist on Turner Classic Movies a few nights ago, and one morning Oliver gets sent out from the workhouse to pick oakum.

    1. Steve,

      Not only has the Galveston Tourist Bureau made maps and such available, the Houston “Chronicle”, assorted local magazines and online sites have provided information, also. On any given weekend, there can be a bit of a crush on streets lined with multiple carvings. The word is out, and many people have enjoyed the work.

      I’ve wondered a time or two at the unfailing patience, good-humored acceptance and over-the-fence educational efforts of the home-owners. It’s wondrous to behold. They understand the phrase “attractive nuisance”, for sure, and apparently live easily with the concept.

      It was a shame about the damage done to the dog, but that’s the only vandalism I’ve heard of. I haven’t been to the Island this season, but I’m sure he’s sporting his Santa hat.

      As for “true”, it’s worth remembering its function as a verb for carpenters, shipbuilders and others – to “true up”, or “to bring an object, wheel, or other construction into the exact shape, alignment, or position required”. Interesting that a carpenter’s work either is true, or not. True carpentry is, of course, solid and steadfast.

      There are places where oakum lives on. A friend’s son-in-law is a restorer of sailing vessels at the Mystic Seaport Museum. He’s worked on both the Amistad and the Charles W. Morgan, I believe, and he’s exceptionally skilled at the use of oakum. From what I’ve heard, there are certain laundry problems associated with his work. The “stuff” gets everywhere!


  26. For me the bright note to an unfortunate loss is the use of oak wood in the restoration of the Charles W Morgan; I believe the last wooden whaling ship in the world. Visited Mystic about 20 years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the museum, grounds, buildings and especially the boats; for anyone in the area I highly recommend a visit.


    1. Rick,

      You’re right about the Charles W. Morgan – she is the last of her kind. There was so much gratitude when it became known that part of Galveston would become part of her new life. One Galveston friend said that, from her perspective, it was precisely like donating organs so that another person can live.

      And of course there was great anxiety about the fate of our tall ship, the Elissa, during Ike, and great relief when she fared well. You might enjoy this view from her rigging I suspect it’s the last of this sort of photo I’ll be taking.

      And for those who don’t know the Morgan, there are innumerable videos which show her well. The one below is especially nice.


  27. WOW… What a beautiful, bittersweet article! The man who says “It’s just like cutting off an arm or a leg” is absolutely right — anyone who loves trees knows this feeling. But what these artists created in the wake of this natural catastrophe is truly remarkable, and honors the beauty of the trees themselves. KUDOS to them ALL!

    1. I thought you’d enjoy this. It was a remarkable achievement, a source of pride, and a nice tourist attraction, as well. While the city still
      was recovering. those tourist dollars really were important, and it was wonderful that something inspiring and beautiful could bring them in.

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