Follow the Muddy Dirt Road

Question: What do you get when you combine Italian immigrants, a bag of Louisiana acorns, some determined folk in a historically-minded Texas town and a California native who (along with his crew) moves trees with all the pride and competence you’d expect from an ex-Marine?

Answer: A feel-good story of the first order. Read on…

League City, Texas is growing. In the year 2000, the U.S. Census found 45,874 residents in the just-slightly-sleepy little town I call home, By 2010, I’d added myself and my mother to the new total of 83,560, and plenty of others have done so since.  Homes, schools and churches are popping up everywhere. New business is coming in, traffic is becoming an issue and we’ve earned the distinction of having the third-worst intersection in the Houston-Galveston area.

Road construction is a fact of life, particularly since so many streets no longer are traveled only by the people who live along them. Plans were well underway to convert such a street, Louisiana Avenue,  from an open ditch, rural roadway to a concrete-curbed storm sewer thoroughfare when some observant citizens realized a tiny obstacle stood in the way of all that progress – an uncommon and historically significant tree, the Ghirardi Compton Oak.

Comptons are wonderful trees, a cross between overcup and live oaks. Overcups are tolerant of poor drainage and grow in just about anything but standing water. Live oaks also are site tolerant, but prefer better drainage.  While live oaks produce masses of tasty acorns, the overcup’s developed a bit of a reputation as the “acorn of last resort” for hungry animals.

The relatively rare Comptons combine the best traits of both parents and in some cases improve on them. Faster growth, larger, tastier acorns and heavy production are typical of the Compton, although each tree tends to favor either the live or overcup side of the family. Compton oaks also happen to be extraordinary beautiful; the older ones often display large, magnificent canopies.

They’re a nice fit for League City, where beautiful trees abound. The city’s live oak legacy began in 1854 when three interrelated families – the Butlers, Cowards and Perkins – traveled overland from Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, to the coastal prairies of Galveston County.  Settling somewhat west of the current League City, on Clear (or Chigger) Creek, they established cattle ranches and followed Acadian tradition by planting oaks from bags of acorns carried from Louisiana in their wagons.

The trees thrived, so much so that when George Washington Butler moved his ranch headquarters to town in the 1870s, he brought with him a multitude of young oaks that had been started on Chigger Creek. When the community renamed itself League City in the first decade of the 1900’s, Butler asked J.C. League to ship in some flat cars of live oaks to continue transforming the prairie. The shipment was accomplished, and any homeowner who couldn’t afford the $4 per tree price tag was given one to plant in his yard. Many of these Butler Oaks still survive, century-old trees that have become the symbol for League City.

Even as the early tree-planting was taking place, agriculture was beginning to flourish. Truck farming of strawberries, corn, cucumbers, beets, figs, tomatoes and grapefruit was developed by a group of Italian families rooted in Cercenasco, Italy, a town in the province of Turin. Over a thirty year period, these Italians entered America through Ellis Island, then sailed for Galveston. 

Unlike many Italian immigrants who rooted themselves on Galveston Island, the Vaglienti, Arolfo, Daro, Cucco, Morratto, Bocco and Ghirardi families moved inland, establishing a strong, cohesive community that continues to enrich League City life.

As it happens, 75-year-old Clarence Ghirardi used to sort canteloupe under the disputed Compton oak, which shaded land owned by his uncle. Over the years the land and its tree stayed in the family, and Clarence’s son Michael and grandsons Eric and Drayce played beneath its limbs. The Ghirardi family’s preference was to see it stay put, perhaps with the street curving around it. When it became obvious that option was unworkable, Clarence offered to donate a half-acre of his own land to provide a new home for the tree.

The land had the advantage of bordering a park already in development, but the plan would require moving the tree about 1500 feet. It would be an expensive and complex operation, one which offered no guarantees but which at least might avoid turning the tree into firewood.

As you might imagine, there was a great commotion for months.  There were vigils, and arguments, and the usual complaints about frivolous use of tax dollars. (As it turned out, no tax dollars were spent, thanks in part to a $10,000 contribution by Trees for Houston which helped to get the ball rolling.) Eventually, the tree had its own Facebook page, City Council members were being lobbied within an inch of their lives, and people who’d never heard of the Ghirardis or a Compton oak were stopping by for a look.

Barry Ward, Executive Director of Trees for Houston, put it best. “If everybody pitches in and cooperates and thinks about what we can do, the likelihood is you will save one of the most significant Compton oaks in North America. The question now is: Does the city council have the will to go ahead and make it happen?”

In the end, they did have that will. A bid was accepted from Hess Landscape Construction of Orange County, California, for $197,500. When Erik Hess and his crew showed up and went to work, they not only impressed the town with their competence, they inspired a community as well. And when they put their 1,300 horsepower and 400,000 pounds of equipment to the test, the old Ghiradi oak groaned, creaked and complained – but she moved.

Certainly, moving a tree of such size involves more than a bucket and a shovel. There are dimensions to be taken, soils to be tested, trenches to be dug and on-site boxes to be built. By the time all was said and done, the great Ghirardi oak had been transformed into a Texas-sized bonsai, the center of the town’s attention as it waited for its big day.

The machinery that made the move possible was far less impressive than the people who made it work.  There’s something beautiful and inspiring about watching a tightly-knit and competent team accomplish a goal, people so disciplined and attuned to one another that unexpected problems never rise to the level of crisis.

When one of the primary cables linking the excavators and bulldozers snapped just before the tree was moved into its new hole, the problem-solving process seemed to be more nerve-wracking for observers than for those actually solving the problem.

After the move was complete and the crowd had dispersed, I talked for few minutes with Erik Hess, the company owner who supervised the move. “I’ll bet you’re going to sleep well tonight,” I said. Laughing, he acknowledged some relief and suggested that the whole team would be sleeping better. 

When the word “stress” came up in our conversation, he said the Marine Corps had taught him a good bit about how to deal with it. “You get around it not by focusing on the stress, but by paying attention to the challenge in front of you,” he said.  Clearly, he’d learned the lesson well. Only after I uploaded my photos from the day did I notice one small ambiguous gesture that might have suggested stress – the lightly clenched fists in the photo below.

Beyond that, there was only what a woman watching nearby called “artisty”, a beautifully choreographed pas de deux of knowledge and experience that ended to accolades and applause.

Now that the Ghirardi oak has been replanted, mulched, irrigated and fed, there’s not much action down at the park. Experts are keeping an eye on the tree, of course, but watching a root system reestablish itself is akin to watching paint dry.  People still drive down Louisiana Avenue to have a look at the tree from the road. Some park, and spend a little time gawking. Others walk across the pasture and take photos, just to remember.

And in more households than you might imagine, a sudden impulse strikes. “Wasn’t that wonderful?” someone thinks. “I’d love to see that again.” Thanks to the same people who dared commit to saving a piece of their town’s legacy, they can see it again. And you can watch, too – just to see how wonderful it truly was.

To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – no Reblogging. Thanks!

91 thoughts on “Follow the Muddy Dirt Road

  1. What a lovely story! First, the name “Chigger Creek” gave me a smile, which remained on my face through the rest of the story!

    I am surprised they did not wait until the tree was dormant/ had dropped its leaves and had the winter to make new roots without using energy for the leaves.

    Will you keep us posted on its progress?
    Thanks for a great story! Z

    1. Z,

      I suspect I know exactly why Chigger Creek was given its name – unfortunately!

      While these oaks do go dormant (sometimes in summer, under drought stress, as well as in the winter) they don’t lose all their leaves at one time. That said, this certainly isn’t the best time for transplanting, but the necessities of the construction project made it necessary.

      We have been very, very lucky. Since the move, there have been a few searingly hot days, but there have been as many that were cloudy, and we have had some rain – half an inch just today. And Tropical Storm Debby missed us – we very much need a summer without that sort of thing to worry about!

      I did hear (and this is just word of mouth – no link) that from the time the tree was boxed until it went back into the ground, there was evidence of root growth through the slats in the box. And it was pruned prior to moving. If it makes it through the summer, I think it will do fine!

      I’ll bet there will be an event down the road, like a Christmas party – I’ll be sure to post about it.


      1. Ah, boxing in the roots and seeing new feeder roots is like having the patient moved from ICU to a normal room! I am sure it will be happy in its new home! Thanks so much for answering.

        Yes, I watched Deb and thought of you. I hope that the hurricane season isn’t a bad one, but Madre Tierre seems really angry these days.
        We’ve received reports/warnings of a possible el nino year for the last quadrant of this year. They’ll be studying the ocean temps and making more predictions in a few weeks, but ‘we’ve been warned.’ Every 15 or so years is the standard time for el nino, so we’re due one.

        1. z,

          Yep – I’ve heard mutterings the last couple of weeks about an increasing El Nino for the second half of the year. I let the scientists do their thing, while I concentrate on my little rules for The Season: “It Only Takes One” and “Run from Water, Hide from Wind”.

          Well, and be sure you have plenty of chocolate and coffee. ;)


  2. What an absolutely amazing and astonishing feat and story!!! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. You find the most interesting things to write about, Linda!

    1. Wendy,

      Isn’t it something? I’ve often seen the excavators used to pull the barges around when they’re dredging and such, but to see them pull a tree through a prairie using the same technique – it just was extraordinary.

      It may not be life on the bayou, but every now and then we do have ourselves a little event. The only thing missing was a trip to Schmoopy’s when it was all over!


  3. So fascinating. I love the way you research and tell these stories. I am another one who wants to be kept informed about that giant ‘bonsai’!

    1. Julie,

      We’ll keep the news flowing! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I certainly did learn a good bit while researching. It seems every town’s history has a few interesting or amusing side notes that are worth exploring, and I found a couple of those right here in League City. More about them later!


        1. I’ve got this utterly irrational desire to see Alice Springs – if I ever make that, I’ll be sure and stop by. (It all started when I came across a chapter called “Walkabout in Woop Woop” in Paul Theroux’s “Happy Isles of Oceania”. If you’ve not read it, I suspect you’d like it.)

  4. That’s quite an accomplishment for your town, and I’m glad people had the gumption to make it happen!

    1. Becca,

      Gumption, indeed – of various sorts, I might add. They took quite a bit of flack and there seems to have been some garden-variety name-calling – “tree huggers” and so on. I did see the word “wastrel” used in one letter to some editor. That made me happy. I hadn’t seen “wastrel” used since I stopped reading Dickens.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  5. We had a similar experience with a big Guayacán tree that was moved from Vía España to Albrook. I was amazed how they could pull a tree from the ground, place it into a platform truck, and plant it four miles away. The task was amazing.

    I understand what you mean by the “espíritu de cuerpo” to fulfill a common goal. I enjoyed the story and could relate it to the building of the Metro in our country, and saving trees in the process.



    1. Omar,

      It makes me happy to see so much effort now being devoted to saving trees. Of course, fifty years ago, no one thought much of it – trees seemingly were everywhere. It’s a different story now, and of course technologies have developed that make successful transplants more possible.

      On the other hand, crews like this are compelling partly because of the distinctly low-tech nature of much that goes on. I looked and looked, but didn’t see the men using any two-way radios, bluetooth devices and so on. Hand signals? You bet – and for that to work, people have to be attentive, focused and experienced. They have to know what they’re doing.

      We could use a little more of that, these days.


  6. Wonderful story. Up on Cape Cod where I grew up we only had “scrub” oak. Hardly more than large shrubs. What we did have in Orleans when I was a kid were “stately” elms. Then in the early 50s they were devastated by “Dutch Elm Disease.” The elms that lined and shaded Main Street fell one by one until they were all gone. There was nothing that could save them.

    What do you do then? Well, the town planted Japanese cherry trees along Main Street. Not lordly or stately like the noble elm, but talk about pretty in the Spring time.

    When I moved to Louisiana I became acquainted with the Live Oak. What wonderful trees they are. I wonder if those that made City Park in New Orleans survived Katrina. I sure hope so.

    1. Richard,

      Oh, that Dutch Elm Disease was horrible. And you never really understand how much a part of your world trees actually are until they’re gone. It was completely disorienting to go down to Galveston after Ike – the light had changed completely. Beyond that, it was so unutterably sad to think of all those marvelous trees, planted after the 1900 storm, washed away again.

      I will say that they’ve done a pretty good job of making the Island attractive again. For one thing, there are many more palms now, and those are helping to reshape the “feel” of the place. The New Orleans oaks are thriving – thank goodness. I was surprised when I found out how old some of those are – ours is just a baby!

      I like the stately, moss-draped oaks, but I think my favorite live oaks in Texas are on the coast, down around Rockport and Fulton. With the strong prevailing winds off the ocean, they’ve taken on that characteristic “bend” – just lovely. And in the same area, at Goose Island, one of the oldest oaks in the world holds court. I’ve seen every sort of estimate, but everyone seems to agree it’s over a thousand years old. You can see it and some of the “leaning trees” here.


  7. All’s well that ends well. When people get together and set to with a will, anything can be achieved.

    This is an uplifting – no pun intended – story. I hope the oak survives the journey.

    1. friko,

      Isn’t that so? Not only can much be achieved, the rewards of working together endure regardless of the result. If the tree should (God forbid) come to an unhappy end, that doesn’t change the fact that the community tried. The experience will be there forever.

      Did you notice those little girls in the lime green tee shirts in the video? One of their group said that when she grows up, she’s going to bring her kids to see the tree and tell them all about how they saved the tree. For her sake, among others, I hope the tree survives, too.


  8. This is such a unique story told in such detail. Thank you for the interesting back ground research and history. I love our live oaks and how interesting to learn about the Butler and Compton oaks of League City. What a fabulous feat those men and that equipment achieved. You do sniff out the most interesting stories, flesh out the details and tell such a rounded tale.

    1. Georgette,

      It’s lovely to have you back – I do hope your month was a good one.

      On the Hess Landscape Construction website, the slogan is, “We Do What Others Say Can’t be Done, and We Do It Every Day”. It seems a fair statement. And I confess – I always cheer for people who prove advanced degrees aren’t necessary for success.

      Intelligence, competence and technical skills can be learned outside the walls of colleges and universities. My own dad became an industrial engineer and a supervisor at Maytag with nothing more than a high school degree. He just happened to be smart and a hard worker. It still can be enough, and when it happens, it’s worth telling the story – especially such a delightful story as this one.

      Again, welcome back!


  9. What a treat! I don’t know which part made me smile more, the fact that the tree had its own Facebook page, or watching the actual move. The way the diggers (I am not good on construction equipment) worked like arms to haul the tree, and then gently set it into its new “bed” was marvelous. I’ll be smiling for days.

    I hope the tree survives.

    1. ds,

      It was an amazement to watch that journey across Mr. Ghirardi’s pasture. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the excavators digging things up, but they did a good job of repairing the damage by the time the day was over. If you look at the video again, at 2:56 until about 3:02 you’ll see a gentleman in a blue tee shirt – that’s Mr. Ghirardi, who sorted the canteloupe under the tree as a child and donated the land.

      I got quite a chuckle out of the Facebook page myself. If even the neighborhood trees have joined, maybe I ought to reconsider!

      As for survival – there was a fellow named John Quigley who moved into a California oak named Old Glory some years ago to save it from cutting. They did save the 400-some years-old tree, and the last I heard it had passed the five-year post-planting mark. Apparently arborists consider that the benchmark for survival. That means we only have four years, eleven months and……

      Cross your fingers!


    1. Susan,

      Isn’t it, though! How much Miracle-Gro do you think you’d need to mix up for that baby?

      I was thinking about you earlier today while watching the video again. I noticed something that might have passed me by had I not been reading your blog so regularly. Listen to the music from about 5:10 to the end. It doesn’t resolve, suggesting that the story’s not over, only paused. It’s a very nice touch, and I’d not be surprised to find out it was intentional.


  10. I’m impressed that they attempted the move! The boxing of the roots looks like a very thorough job. A wonderful story, Linda, of determination and people getting together to accomplish a big task. Incidentally, I’m from north Orange County :-)

    1. nikkipolani,

      I knew you were somewhere in the area. Now, if you ever need to move a really big tree, you’ve got a recommendation! (By the way -the photo on my “About” page was taken in Newport Beach.)

      As with so many things in life, good preparation is key. People say to me, “Just get someone to do your prep, and then you can do the varnishing.” They don’t understand that no varnish will look good if the prep isn’t right, and the prep is where the bulk of the time and expense lay.

      It was the same with the tree. It took about a month to do what had to be done to ready it for the move. The day of the move, I was watching on the web cam here at home when I suddenly realized the tree had moved slightly. I got in the car, drove down to the site, and in the 15 minutes it took me to drive there, they’d already moved it halfway – it took about 15 or 20 minutes!

      It took the rest of the afternoon to get it across the hay field and into the hole, but still – that was only a few hours. All that prep’s what made the move itself go so smoothly. But then – you know something about transplanting yourself!


      1. You’re absolutely right, of course, that the work was in the prepping — planning, calculating, weighing, and probably more calculating!

        BTW, I waved in your general direction when I flew through IAH a few weeks ago :-)

  11. What a wonderful story — completely uplifting. I can’t even begin to tell you how it warms the heart to see so many souls working to save such a magnificent tree…. ♥ Thanks for sharing such an amazing story. (I needed a feel-good human interest story with trees, in light of our — Florida’s — recent meth addict who burned down the world’s fifth-oldest tree.)

    1. FeyGirl,

      I read that story. In 1989, a guy named Paul Cullen poisoned Austin’s Treaty Oak with Valpar, but they did manage to save that one. Now and then I try to imagine what could impel a person to do such a thing. I just can’t.

      Of course, there are plenty of people who can’t imagine why anyone would want to save a tree. “It’s just a tree!” they say. But of course it’s not “just” a tree – it’s history, community, beauty, all wrapped up in one leafy package.

      But you already know that.


  12. When we were in Concord, Massachusetts, yesterday, we stopped to visit the Old Manse, the house built for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather. R.W. stayed there for a time, too, as did Nathaniel Hawthorne (whose last name recalls another type of tree).

    By coincidence, in Austin I recently read a quotation from the younger Emerson’s “Nature,” an essay I downloaded to my laptop, thinking I might read it on this trip even if I was out of range of a wi-fi connection. In any case, the tour of the Old Manse took us at one point to the window in front of which Emerson had sat and written “Nature.” I learned that there’s some irony in that, because the tour guide happened to point out that in Emerson’s day some 90% of the trees in the area had been cut down.

    That evening, one of the friends we’re visiting in New Hampshire mentioned that much of the forest up here—a joy to behold by comparison with what we see in most of Texas—is third-growth forest, because in colonial times and again in the age of industry people cut down many of the trees. But now we see lots of tall trees again: as in the case of your oak, nature can be resilient.

    1. Steve,

      I’d not read Emerson’s “Nature”. Now I have, and it’s a remarkable piece. I confess I was hooked and pulled in by the first sentences: “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.” Exactly so. How could I not keep reading at that point?

      In many places, if I’d been given only an anonymous quotation to identify, my first choice would have been Annie Dillard. Even where I wasn’t so directly reminded of her writing, there were some choice bits that I’ll go back and savor.

      And at the end, in the next-to-last sentence (look at that structure!), I found a nearly perfect description of what it was like watching the moving of the tree:

      “As when the summer comes from the south; the snow-banks melt, and the face of the earth becomes green before it, so shall the advancing spirit create its ornaments along its path, and carry with it the beauty it visits, and the song which enchants it; it shall draw beautiful faces, warm hearts, wise discourse, and heroic acts, around its way, until evil is no more seen.”

      Beyond all that, your mention of third-growth forest is encouraging. Bodies can heal, and likewise the land, though our cultural impatience these days doesn’t do much to encourage the long view of things.

      Of course, for growth to occur, planting is necessary – not to mention a pause in the clear-cutting now and then. To the extent that stories like this one make people take pause and consider their approach to the world, the benfits may far outweigh the cost.

      Happy travels!


  13. People who destroy things like Treaty Oaks, and the world’s fifth oldest tree, etc., do so out of jealousy and narcissism – because it’s stealing their thunder, so to speak. I didn’t know you could move a tree that big either, but there you are. If there hadn’t been grant money available, and property donated, I’m afraid the tree would be history by now. I hope it does well in its new home.

    BTW, if you travel north on Louisiana Avenue to where it intersects FM 518, turn west on FM 518, and stay on it until you get to Pearland, you will come to Yost Boulevard. Entirely too many years ago, when I first turned off what was then the Friendswood Highway, onto what was then Yost Road, it was a dirt road “paved” with crushed oyster shells (and murder to walk on in bare feet!). It was called Yost Road because my mom’s second oldest sister and her husband, Mr. Yost, built their house at the corner where it intersected the highway.

    At that time, I was related either by birth or marriage to literally everybody that lived on that road — It was the only way to get to my mother’s mother’s house, and the houses of two of her sisters and most of her brothers. The road used to dead-end at my Uncle H’s house where you turned off at his satsuma orchard to drive back up into the trees to his shotgun farmhouse. Aunt Yost’s house is long gone, as is the satsuma orchard and all but my uncle H’s old house, my aunt E’s house (she died almost a year ago at the age of 97), and a cousin’s.

    Back then, once you left Houston, where her oldest sister lived, you had to drive for half an hour way the heck out in the country to get there. There’s a Clear Creek that ran behind (north of) my Uncle H’s place and my Grandma’s place — but even it’s paved now! Needless to say there’s a lot of nice homes and paved roads that “didn’t use to be there” and it’s all but unrecognizable as the “way the heck out in the country” I remember as a child. It’s all built up now to the point where you can’t tell any more where Houston ends and any of its suburbs begin.

    1. WOL,

      It’s a fact that, for whatever reason, there are people in this world who become deeply offended and angry in the face of beauty, growth and vitality. Some of them sit around and grump, some direct their venom and vindictiveness toward other people, and some attack helpless life that has no way to resist. It’s horrible when it happens, whether to a person, an animal or a tree.

      I sure did smile at your bit of personal history, and am tickled that you shared it. I didn’t even have to get out a map to know exactly where you “were”. When Mom still was alive, we spent quite a bit of time in the Friendswood/Pearland area – her knitting group was there, for one thing – and I often would take Dixie Farm Road over. One of her friends lived just slightly north, and we’d pass Yost on our way to the house.

      When I moved to Houston for the first time in 1972, there still was a distinction between the city and surrounding towns. Even though you could drive to Galveston on a freeway, there wasn’t the solid suburban strip mall sprawl lining the road.

      But there are people who remember those earlier times. I have a friend who grew up inside Houston – he used to quail hunt where the Galleria stands now. And once upon a time, everyone knew where “Jackrabbit Road” was. There were jackrabbits out there, too.

      I laugh at people From Away (as Gerry would say) who call it “Pearl-and”. No pearls out there, unless they were in all that crushed oyster. But pears? Oh, yes. And other good things, too. It’s too bad the satsumas are gone, but there are plenty of us who head past your old stomping grounds to the Froberg Farm in Alvin, just for a taste of “the real thing”.


      1. Oddly enough, one of my mother’s 8 brothers lived on the Dixie Farm Road and had, in addition to a fine fig orchard, a cannery– I hope you remember “Jamison’s Home Canned” — fresh bread, pecan pies, and preserves. He had a little shop by the highway, but he also shipped all over the country — jams, jellies, relishes, pickles and figs, oh, the figs! Uncle H’s satsumas were legendary. He would send us a box of same by Greyhound bus in season. I am allergic to “regular” oranges, but I could eat satsumas with impunity — and still do, only now the only way I can get them is in a can labeled “Mandarin Oranges” — (It was only recently I learned that what the Japanese call satsumas, the Chinese sell as mandarins.) In the summertime, I usually keep a can or two in the fridge for a refreshing snack.

        1. Oh, my! Yes, I remember! And so does another lady, who wrote this fine remembrance in “Country Lifestyle” in 2008. She even mentions the satsumas!

          Now I’m assuming that Jamison Middle School is named for the family, and the story of the Twelve Jamison Children that was put in Pearland’s time capsule not long ago surely included those eight brothers. How absolutely cool.

          As it happens, I have connections to some satsuma trees over in Louisiana. When they come in again, we’ll have to see it we can’t get some to you. I’d not send them by Greyhound, though. ;)


          1. The Jamison Middle School was named for my mother’s oldest brother, Sam. Bert, of Jamison’s Home Canned, was brother #2. The story of the Jamison Children was the story of my mother and her sisters and brothers. Mom is the baby — the 12 th child. Alas, only the last four children are left. There’s also this from my old blogger blog, My Aunt Verna is the one who married Mr. Yost of Yost Road fame.

            1. I just have to say it again – I love the internet. There’s plenty of foolishness, but there’s so much to be discovered, so many connections to be made. I’m off to read your story.

  14. Wonderful story. First I grinned, then I wept, then I grinned. Loved the video. A friend was involved with a similar project in Youngsville, Louisiana, to save the Youngsville Heritage Oak, a 250 year-old tree. Citizens and city council agreed to have it moved to avoid a planned roundabout and they are still raising money to repay the $250,000 loan. see here.

    1. Martha,

      My gosh. I’ve been in Youngsville. I ended up there by accident last Christmas, on my trip over to the bonfires. I’m wondering now if I was on the very roundabout mentioned in the article – I was surprised to see it, as they’re not at all common here.

      I was delighted to see by the update that they didn’t have to move the tree, after all. It was to be moved to make room for a temporary construction road, and another person ended up donating her property for the road. So, the funds were used for that project, and restoring her land after the fact. Anything left over was to go to Trees Acadiana.

      There have to be stories like this all over the country. It would be fun to have a site that collects them, as inspiration for others who are in the process of making decisions about such things.


      1. Oh funny. I didn’t realize they hadn’t moved the tree….I guess I should have read the right update. Originally someone offered to move the road, but I thought they rejected that idea. All’s well that ends well.

        1. The update was hard to find – it took two or three links to get there. Apparently what helped make the difference was the temporary nature of the road being blocked by the tree. As you say, all’s well that ends well – and I was glad to learn about the artist whose work is helping to fund the project.

  15. What a great story and so well written! Saving that tree speaks so well of the town and its people as well as the folks who accomplished it. Your story made me feel very good! Thanks!

    1. montucky,

      I knew you’d like this one. In the process of poking around to learn more about the town – both past and present – I discovered a lot. We have an arborist, for example, and plans already in process to help with the replacement of the Butler Oaks when they’re reached the end of their natural span of life.

      But more about that later. Now’s the time for a whole lot of people to enjoy all the good feelings associated with this event – the Ghirardi family, the town and their leadership, the guys from Hess.
      Oh – and you, too!


  16. As I read and then watched the whole thing, Linda, I had a curious thought: is it possible that any roots from this tree, in this new location, will have half a mind to travel back those 1500 feet to find their long-lost relatives???

    1. Ginnie,

      Now, isn’t that a thought! If they do it will be all to the good, because in the process they’ll be helping to hold the tree just a little more firmly to its new location!

      Here’s a funny little sidenote to the whole thing. Before the tree moved, the cicadas that were living in it would pipe up regularly when there wasn’t any machinery or other activity around. During the move and for a while afterward, there was silence in the tree. But on Sunday evening, when I went back to see it again, there was no one else around, and the cicadas were singing away.

      That tree is their world – I wonder if they knew they were in a different spot, or if they just were saying to one another, “What was THAT all about?” ;)


  17. Terrific read! Hoping the tree will survive the big move until it firmly establishes itself-can take up to five years. A lot of water, all the time, will help.

    I can’t imagine a town doubling in size in only a decade. In my town our population 811 in 2000 and 706 in 2010. Now that’s going the right direction!

    1. Wild_Bill,

      You’ve just added a confirmation to what I’ve read here and there – that five years is the benchmark. And everyone seems to understand intuitively the importance of that water. Life being what it is, one of the first “big events” after the tree was moved was the breaking of a primary water main in town. As we moved to stage 3 water rationing, one of the questions I heard over and over was, “Are they going to keep watering the tree?” Luckily, it was repaired quickly, and we’ve been lucky to have some rain.

      Rapid growth can be something to behold. A few years ago, my aunt came to visit and we took back roads to come home from Galveston. We drove past a still-under-construction water tower that was out in the middle of nowhere – now, I pass that water tower on my way to my favorite grocery store, and try to figure out, “Where did all these people come from who are living in these houses?!”


  18. We had a similar situation where Dad lives. There was quite the brouhaha over a row of greatly revered live oak trees planted in 1953. The city was widening a road from four to six lanes and the process would wipe out the live oaks. There was a huge public outcry.

    A friend who participated in our endeavor to prevent the city from demolishing our pier a few years ago, played an integral part in saving the trees. One of the things he did that received attention involved the city seal, which incorporates a live oak. He drew the seal, but in his version the live oak was cut in half and the top half was falling out of the circle. Clever. And effective.

    When it was all said and done, most of the trees were saved after the Department of Transportation agreed to pour a sidewalk behind the trees rather than in front of them. Of course, by that point, the mayor and every member of city council were deeply behind saving the beloved trees. Happy ending.

    1. Bella Rum,

      i’m filled with admiration for your friend. I remember hearing the story of the pier – it sounds as though he has the ability to get people’s attention. That re-do of the city seal is perfect – no wonder it was effective. A picture certainly can be worth any number of words. We have a similar seal – check out this image of one of the world’s most beautiful storm sewer covers on Flickr.

      Pouring a sidewalk “here” rather than “there”? Sometimes, the solutions are so simple, so common-sense. And of course the city government was became supportive. It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

      Speaking of – I hope your dad wasn’t affected in any significant way by the storm. I assumed you wouldn’t have left if he was without electricity and so on. And Happy Independence Day, indeed.


  19. For some reason, I never knew large trees were moved. What an amazing video!

    Before my ex and I moved from NJ to NC, we were renting a home that was destined to be demolished to make room for a small business park. There was a gigantic, old oak tree that was saved after I contacted someone from the shade tree commission. When we visited Jersey, it was satisfying to see a small picnic area surrounding it. I imagine the tree being a continuing comfort to employees sharing stories about tyrannical bosses and lazy coworkers a few feet away in the buildings.

    1. Claudia,

      I can’t remember any large tree moving going on even twenty years ago. I suspect a combination of advancing technology and increased understanding that we can’t easily replace some of these trees means it happens more often. Even so, it’s clear from the comments here – there’s a lot of tree-saving going on that people outside the trees’ communities know nothing about.

      Shade’s one of the best things in the world – as real “shade tree mechanics” know. Now and then, I have pieces I can take off a boat, and there’s nothing better on a summer afternoon than sitting and sanding under the shade of a tree. Sometimes I add lemonade or iced tea, and it becomes pretty near perfect.

      And who knows? Maybe your tree even shaded people who were talking about nice bosses and gung-ho coworkers! The nice thing about trees is that they shade the happy and the unhappy alike – it’s part of what makes them worth saving!


  20. Linda, this is fantastic. I am going to add a link to this inspiring story to a post of my own from a few years ago, concerning our community’s distress regarding a much loved local tree which was cut down without our being given any notice enabling us to protest. I’ll send you my post with your link when I get around to doing it.

    On a personal note, in the small Scottish town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis off Scotland, where I grew up, there is a testimony to my paternal grandmother Isabella Whitaker’s feisty determination and ecological sensibilities in the early part of the 20th century.

    In a nutshell, the local Town Council of which she was the first ever woman member in the 1920s, were planning town improvements which would mean cutting down an old tree round the back of my grandparents’ yard. She fought the Council tooth and nail over this tree, and eventually won. To this day, you can see a wall in the town which has a kink in it where it bends round that old tree!

    1. Anne,

      I suppose it’s no different in your part of the world. When the powers-that-be prefer not to deal with opposition, they’ll often try to cleave to the old wisdom that it’s “easier to get forgiveness after than permission before”. Unfortunately, that forgiveness doesn’t always come easily, and it can be tinged with bitterness for a long, long time.

      So hooray for Isabella and her determination! What a delight it must be to see that kink, and know that you’re a part of it. It’s those little idiosyncracies that give a town “character”. It helps to retain the history of a place by encouraging the telling of stories about how “this” or “that” came to be.

      Sometimes I think today’s young women truly believe all women born before 1970 were poor, set-upon creatures who never had a wish of their own or a word to say. How completely wrong that is. True, there were struggles – for labor reform, for the vote, and so on. But there were many tough, creative women – like your grandmother and mine – who found their way around obstacles of every sort. Thank goodness for what they achieved, and for their willingness to risk failure!


    1. Martha,

      The nice thing about tears is that they can clear our vision and allow us to see things we might otherwise miss.There’s been a lot ot see around here recently.

      Just think – if I had a scooter, I could scoot past the Ghirardi Oak and add it to your Ride Challenge. I guess this will have to do – I hope the rest of your summer’s filled with such marvelous stories!


  21. Linda, you have told us many wonderful stories but this one may well be my favourite, until now. From the first Piemontese immigrants leaving Torino area – not that far from me – until this beautiful and touching video where so much work, competence and respect is showed, this is truly a unique story. I could not find the equivalent for Compton oak in French.

    Like montucky I feel better knowing such wise decisions can be taken by a community to protect some of the treasures of nature and past times.
    One gesture I loved, the way the Tree was watered all along his slow journey to its future home. Thank you Linda.

    1. Isa,

      It is a marvelous tale. I’d not thought of those first immigrants being from your “neighborhood”, but of course they were, and that’s another little twist that makes the story even more delightful. Our histories are more intertwined than we ever imagine – it’s amazing how this internet and the sharing we do make the connections visible.

      Of course, things are never so easy as they seem after the fact. There were strong opinions on both sides, and many problems to be solved. But in the end, the treasure was protected.

      I have some other photos I’ll share at some point. Three of them show what appears to be a grandfather with two of his grandchildren. They’ve come to see the tree, just before it was moved. Seeing them, I couldn’t help but think of the words of Voltaire: “How pleasant it is for a father to sit at his child’s board. It is like an aged man reclining under the shadow of an oak which he has planted”.

      As for that watering… Our soil here is called gumbo. It’s clay, and it’s terrible to work whether it’s wet or dry. I didn’t ask, but I suspect the water was being used to keep the leading edge of the platform clean, and perhaps even to “slick up” the ground a bit so the tree would slide more easily. I worry more about the soil than anything else in this transplanting process. If a hole isn’t prepared the right way, you might as well put your plant in a bucket – the soil “seals” and doesn’t drain properly. But the experts knew all that, and more. I’m sure it will be fine.

      Beyond the practicalities, I loved something Erik Hess said. As he put it, “I’m alive, and you’re alive, and that tree is alive. You can’t just drag it around without the proper care.” Exactly so.

      I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m especially glad you found the story to your liking.


  22. My dear Linda
    I agree with isathreadsoflife in the comment above that of all the wonderful stories you’ve told us in your blog, this one about an old tree, is my favorite.

    You’re a skilled writer and researcher, you didn’t just say “we moved a tree” and show some photos, you must’ve spent hours researching the history of the area so now we can understand who, what, how and why your community came together to save one old tree. I love that the whole community worked together to save it, and that it had its own FaceBook page! I hope it thrives in its new location.

    I’m very sad to learn that a meth addict in Florida burned down the world’s fifth-oldest tree (((sigh)))…. On my recent walk along the Camino I felt a strong connection to the old trees along the paths. Unfortunately following the orders from Franco, most of the forests were dug up and replaced by the acidic fast growing eucalyptus trees. I need to write a post on it.

    1. dearrosie,

      I just have to drag out the good Mr. Chekov again, he who said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” That’s what I try to do. And of course, one thing always leads to another: how did the glass get broken? why didn’t someone sweep it up? is it moonlight glinting on the glass, or is the moonlight only illuminating the person whose lantern light is glinting? And so on.

      I suppose that’s the big lesson I’ve learned in four years of blogging – passing on information is one thing, story-telling is another. Each has tis place, and one isn’t better than the other, but they’re different. And I do like telling stories. That’s why I use Twitter to convey information but like the blog for the extra room it offers for “who, what, how and why”.

      There’s always the issue of point of view, too. I could have told quite a different tale, I suppose – one written from the perspective of folks who still are haunting some message boards, criticizing what was done and offering up great, heaping doses of negativity. But I don’t see any point in that. The decision was made, the move was accomplished, and it was a splendid thing to behold. I truly believe the tree’s going to make it. Time will tell if I’m right.

      I think you do need to write that post. I don’t remember hearing or reading about Franco’s decision, and it raises so many questions.I do need to go back and look at your photos again. I was so focused on the buildings and the people I didn’t really look at the trees. I’m sure you appreciated their shade!


    1. J.Boudreaux,

      Isn’t it a wonderful story? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes it’s far more wonderful than fiction. They did a wonderful job – coming to agreement, getting the job done and recording it for us all.

      It’s great to have something to balance out the nastiness and craziness in the world, for sure.


  23. This is just amazing! Did the Guinness Book of World Records people come and mark it down as the world’s largest Bonsai? Or some other records…

    Kudos to your City Council for being willing to spend close to two hundred thousands to transplant a tree. Great story … again, only here on your blog can I know this piece of otherwise quite unknown human endeavour. (I mean, where was the press? I was surprised to see so few people watching the move.)

    1. Arti,

      The press has been there through the process, and some AP stories went out, but coverage appeared to be mostly in-state. There were television clips, feature articles in the Houston and Galveston papers, and a few linked stories in blogs and websites, but that was about it.

      By now, you may have read the review of “Gentle Action” on Before the Downbeat. If not, give it a read. You’ll appreciate David Peat’s point, that “the creative intervention of a single person can end up being more effective than an aid program organized by a multimillion-dollar organization”. That clearly was true here, although obviously more than a single person was involved. Slow blogging, singular action. A slogan that would fit on a tee-shirt.

      There was a good-sized crowd to see the tree come out of the ground, and the weekend before the move there had been a steady stream of people coming down to take pictures and gawk, but the move itself took place on a work day, so that affected things. That’s all right. Between the “tree cam” and the videos, folks could keep in touch.

      Here’s your “ain’t technology somthin’?” story of the day. Things were moving slowly, so I came home for some lunch and was sitting at the computer looking at the tree cam when I thought, “That thing has moved!” Indeed it had. By the time I made the 15 minute trip down to the pasture, it was halfway to its new home. The photo at the top of the blog entry is the first photo I took. Can you see the tree, down there with its friends, waiting to cross the pasture?


  24. Send a link of this to the folks at All Things Considered or Morning Edition — this is SO the story they like — feels good, everyone won, it took great effort and cooperation.

    Plus, it is one of the most delightfully written pieces I’ve seen here — and you write a lot of them!

    1. jeanie,

      I’d think someone over at our public radio or tv stations would have been all over it. It certainly was on the news around here a good bit, was blogged about in the Houston paper and so on.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. It is a wonderful story. There was plenty of conflict in the decision-making process, but once the decision was made and despite some glitches along the way, the move itself was marvelous.

      We’re actually getting some rain around here – nearly three inches in the past two days at a weather station relatively near the tree – and more than a few people are smiling and commenting how happy they are for it.


    1. Andrew,

      I love the video. There’s something about the delicacy of the music paired with those big, clunky machines that’s both humorous and delightful. I was really fond of the two excavators in the lead – pas de deux, indeed!


  25. Linda, I loved your story, but the video made me cry. Who knows? I suppose it was just so awesome to see a real *Ent on the move.

    Thank you for sharing this with me. I have been so busy I wasn’t really reading anyone’s blogs. I will share a link with my sister-in-law Kathee so she can see it too!

    *Ent: a tree herder in Fangorn Forest, from the epic Lord of the Rings.

    ~ Lynda
    PS: You have inspired my next post!

    1. Lynda,

      Inspiration’s good. The tree moving project inspired me, now I inspire you – and around and around we go!

      I’m glad you gave a clue about the Ents. I went to the wiki for a little more information, but apparently one of the genetic defects I’m cursed with is an inability to appreciate things like ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I know it’s supposed to be all that, but my eyes glaze over.

      Anyhow, I do have one photo of the oak that makes it look a bit like an imp, if not an ent. They cut the hay before moving the tree, of course, and the bales still were there the day of the move. I was just hanging around waiting to see what would happen next, and decided to try for a different view.


      1. Linda,
        You are not the first to tell me this. I couldn’t have cared less when I was younger, and I’ll admit my eyes glazed over too, but as an adult I have come to appreciate Tolkien’s attention to detail and his ability to place the reader squarely into the environment and the action.

        I like a good long read that makes me want to go on reading and never stop. I love fantasy and a good escape read when I can find it. This one just happens, IMHO, to be the best and I can go back to it again and again. In the quiet of the night, when I can’t sleep, I make a cup of camomile tea and pick up right where I left off, with no backtracking or confusion, because I know the story so well.

        Yes, for me, sometimes a bit (or, at times, a lot) of escapism has gotten me through when real life wasn’t. Maybe that is the key to liking it? The need to escape from reality, but without the stigma and all the harmful effects of taking drugs. ;)
        ~ L
        PS: Your different view was fun!

        1. Truth to tell, a few of my favorites probably would make a lot of folks’ eyes glaze over. After all, there are some similarities between the Lord of the Rings and Yoknapatawpha County!

          I do tend toward letters, essays, travel writing and history – though I’ll roam around in fiction a bit if someone can hold my attention. You started me thinking about the books – or bits and pieces of writing that have been most formative for me. I might have to do something with that. And the “to-be-read” pile is stacking up!

          1. History is a renewed interest for me. Loved it as a child, hated it in HS, and now I am loving it again. Why is that? Too much government in HS perhaps? ~ L

  26. Linda,

    I just found your blog post and wanted to say “thank you” for helping to bring this story to a wider audience than it has already enjoyed.

    The process to save the tree was a daunting one, but one in which I feel the effort was worthwhile. I did indeed receive a lot of flack (and was called many names) over this and as a result faded into the background somewhat as the process neared it’s conclusion.

    There are so many moments I will remember for the rest of my life that occurred through this; numerous (several quite heated) city council meetings, an enormous number of emails to everyone I could think of who might have an interest, the new friends I’ve made, the strengthening of my relationship with my father, the tremendous amount of family (and League City) history I learned.

    The candle light vigil really stands out as it was something that came about as the result of an off hand comment by one of the “friends” on the Facebook page and happened quite suddenly. My kids still talk about it (even the younger ones), so I know it is something they will remember and tell their kids about.

    Indeed they are one of my primary reasons for the efforts I expended to try and help save the tree. This living piece of history is something that will (hopefully) survive them and their grandchildren’s children.

    The night of of the actual lift had something of a carnival feel to it, I kept expecting to see vendors strolling through the crowd hawking glow sticks or various gewgaws. I can easily imagine some sort of celebration in the future in which something of the like happens.

    As I walked around through the crowd the night it was lifted, I kept catching snatches of conversation. I was amazed at the number of people who were there, and that all of them were there to witness such a historic event.

    In listening to them talk, it became apparent to me that many of them had only a cursory knowledge of the entire situation and when I could, I would correct any misunderstandings. This then lead to further discussion and eventually the folks I was talking to would figure out that, since I knew so many details, I must be involved in some form or fashion.

    When it came out that I was a member of the family for which the tree is named, tremendous amounts of gratitude would be expressed to me (to be passed on to my dad) for donating the land and providing a new home for the tree.

    This story of a community who banded together to save a bit of it’s history seems to have touched many. So many more than I initially ever thought would be interested in something as (to some) insignificant as a tree.

    Again, thank you for helping share this story!

    Michael Ghirardi

    1. Michael,

      I was thrilled to find your comment this morning. I’m not on Facebook, so there wasn’t an easy way to get the link for this post to you. I tried some other avenues but wasn’t successful, and finally decided to wait a bit to see if you happened by. And here you are.

      Of course my primary reason for wanting to share my version of the story with you and your family is to say, “Thank you”. And it pleases me beyond words to get the story out into the wider world. As I look through the comments above, I see names of people who live in Chile, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Ecuador, Australia, Panama and The Netherlands, not to mention an assortment of states in this country. Clearly, appreciation for your efforts and your family’s generosity extends far beyond the boundaries of our town and county.

      One of the most touching aspects of entire experience was the presence of families – parents and grandparents with children in tow, telling them the story and perhaps awakening interest in the history of the place in which they live. I didn’t have room for all of my photos here, of course, but this one, taken early Sunday morning before the move, beautifully captures the sharing that took place. I have some other photos, including a few of your dad, that I’ll send along separately.

      A couple of days ago, I happened to be in Randall’s during one of those dousings of rain we’re had. The checker and the woman ahead of me in line were talking about the weather, and the checker was grumping about having to drive home in the rain. The woman said, “Well, at least it’s giving that transplanted oak a good drink”.

      If the first thing some people think about when it starts to rain is the Ghirardi Oak, I have a feeling there may be even more people at any future celebration.

      Again, I’m so glad you found this post. Thanks for your wonderful comment and please – give my regards and thanks to your dad.


  27. What a lovely story and a heart warming video. My best wishes to the Ghirardi Oak for a long and healthy future. Well done to all who were involved in this wonderful achievement.
    from LM in Melbourne, Australia.

    1. bellaandbonnie,

      What a delight it was to find your comment this morning. Thank you for your good wishes for the Oak, and your acknowledgement of those who helped make the move possible.

      “Lovely” and “heart-warming” are words used less and less often these days. It’s one reason it was such pleasure for me to share the story. Despite the conflicts that came with the process and the on-going cynicism of those who believe “it’s just going to die!”, I firmly believe it was a project worth doing.

      Thanks for sharing in our adventure, and for your kind words.


  28. What I enjoyed the most about this story was that it could have happened in Australia where I come from or the US or Timbucktoo.
    (PS. As a relative newbie, can I ask what is reblogging is?)

    1. Mary,

      It could happen anywhere – and does! Sometimes it’s a tree that’s saved, sometimes a river, sometimes a bit of urban green space. But always, the effort by people to restore, renew or save is inspiring.

      As for reblogging – that seems to have been introduced by WordPress as a way to keep up with Tumblr, Pinterest and so on. If someone “reblogs” a post, it shows up on their site, under their name. The first time an entry is reblogged, the author’s name still is attached. After that, it’s stripped out.

      There was quite a hue and cry raised when it was introduced. I know of a couple of bloggers – quite good writers – who simply closed their blogs rather than deal with content theft on a regular basis. I preferred the polite request, and so far, so good.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and please do stop by again. You’re always welcome!


      1. I had no idea it was so easy to steal a post or that one had no idea that it’s even been stolen. So another blogger could take my post and pictures and “pretend” it’s theirs? Good gracious!
        My thanks to marymtf for asking the question.

        1. dearrosie,

          You can set your preferences to receive an email if one of your posts is reblogged. Go to your dashboard, then settings/discussion, and put a check mark in the box that says “Email me whenever a post is reblogged”. That way, if you object for any reason, you can contact the person directly.

          Many people don’t mind at all. Personally, if I see someone I read regularly has reblogged an entry from someone else, I don’t even read it – it may be a fine post, but it just irritates me. I’m guess I’m getting crotchety in my old age.

          Do note that if someone reblogs one of your posts, your name will be on it the first time around. And WordPress has all sorts of ways to explain it’s not “stealing”, but sharing. Whatever.


  29. When I first heard the tree may be destroyed for a new road I was heartbroken. It has stood proudly for 100 yrs. and the thought that we could just kill it to make another road was more than I could understand. Then when I saw the City had cared enough to preserve this piece of our history, I was never more proud. The council truly represented the hearts of League City citizens when they stood strong and made the decision to save it. I want to say thank you to the council for their steadfast belief that League City history is worth preserving.

    When I watched the video of the move, I got chill bumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. I felt a tightness in my chest that only comes when I am moved in such a wonderful way. The crew that did the work were amazing in that they looked like a choreographed dance. Each knew his part, and performed it flawlessly. Thank you to everyone of the crew for your hard work and dedication to the job. It was evident that you are indeed craftsman in what you do.

    I hope and pray that all the elements will come together and the tree will survive and flourish in its new home.


    1. Lynda,

      It is marvelous to see a community come together to accomplish such a wonderful feat. There was the usual contentiousness, of course, but at this point it looks like the right decision was made. The last time I went down to visit the tree, it had some defoliation – pretty good defoliation, actually – but there was plenty of new growth, too. Personally, I think it’s going to make it. Five years apparently is the benchmark.

      Thanks so much for stopping by – see you down at the tree one day!


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