Monday, February 4, 2013

A House, A Home, A Tree

      Often, when David and I are gardening together, I wonder what it was like to stand on this bluff in 1736 when the first settlers began clearing this spot. Those firsts, Hugh and James MacKay, had traveled from Scotland on the Prince of Wales to fight for James Oglethorpe in his Scottish Highlander Regiment, keeping the Spaniards in Florida where the British certainly believed they belonged. Indeed, one of Georgia's founding missions was to be a buffer between the wealthy and important Carolina colonies and the wild, hostile forces to the south.
            The boys, four - Hugh, Patrick, James, and Charles, landed in Darien, south of Savannah in 1732. They had few prospects of fame and glory at home. The clan had lost the family lands and seat, Stathnaver, in repaying debts incurred during the the 30 Years War supporting the Protestant cause. I can't imagine how hostile, yet fertile, this land must have seemed at first sight. Vegetation grows like jungle canopy here, and the heat and biting insects must have been a shock to bare legs under woolen battle kilts. Still, many Scots came seeking religious freedom and free land.
             Hugh and James traveled north to the southern bank of the Ogeechee River to begin building Fort Argyle while others remained behind to establish Fort Frederica on the Island of St. Simon. Would they have traveled through virgin lob-lolly pine forests and dense, wooded acres of wild Magnolia and  majestic Live Oaks?

            We are struggling with the impending loss of our second Magnolia tree in the last fifteen years. Originally, this house was built to nestle between two rows of these established trees. The first drawing, dated 1838, of the current house shows these trees, already mature. One tree was struck by lightening and fell early in our time here, scattering a family of raccoon nestled in the hollow of the old trunk. All survived, walking away dazed and confused as we humans circled the tree, thankful it had spared the house. It was protected by a sister tree that accepted the brunt of the damaging fall. This is the tree over which we wrestle. It is dying, but slowly. One trunk is hollow, a new home for the annual family of coons; the leaves are becoming smaller; the tips of branches bare. Still, we resist. These trees are at least 200 years old, as old as those at Mt. Vernon. They have witnessed great struggle and ease under their canopy. I have given thanks for their beauty, even as I curse the constant mess. We pick up leaves spring and autumn, and cones fall in the winter. Still, it is hard to destroy a living thing.
            This tree will come down. Soon I guess. It leans over the house. If it falls, we will be crushed. Yet it didn't fall the night before last, when the tornado alarms came over the Noah radio, and we went downstairs to wait out the worst of the storm.
This is the dying tree. The lean and bare trunk are visible
             Thomas Jefferson sent seeds of the Southern Magnolia to the Madame de Tess in 1787, and no southern garden was considered complete without this most majestic of trees. Indeed, Andrew Jackson carried seedlings to Washington to plant on either side of the south portico of the White House, recalling  forever his southern home at our nation's first home. The blooms can be 12" across, and they scent the night air of May and June while we enjoy dinners on the porch. I will sit and swing for hours at night, listening to the cicadas sing while leaning back to catch the breeze that carries the scent of lemons back to me.
             We have no record for when the trees were planted. We do know, however, they were planted for the first house that stood here. It might have been a simple log cabin built by James before he could establish a more permanent home. Or, the first home may have looked much like the one now standing, a simple four-over-four with lean-to rooms at the rear. This was a standard style for colonists. The trees have witnessed the return home of a victorious soldier as well as the invasion by Sherman, who visited and stayed here while on his march to the sea. It is a difficult decision to fell this tree. I pay tribute to its great majesty and grandeur.
This one shades my office, the last slave cabin, "Cook's House"
The largest healthy tree shades the chicken coop


  1. The trees in your home are really amazing. I just love watching houses with large trees in their backyard, it make the whole area seem cool to relax in. I'm just sad that you had to cut down one.

  2. Wow - you are the first comment from someone I don't know on this very new blog! How did you find it?

  3. Your trees are so big and beautiful! You're truly blessed to have them. Please do whatever it takes to protect them and ensure they thrive. My neighborhood had tons of trees when I was a kid, but slowly over the years many of them were cut down due to poor health. It's sad to even drive down my old street anymore... it's like a barren wasteland now without all the trees.

    Janessa |

  4. will surely love its presence in your home, the way you might had admired it anytime at places, where you generally hangout. Content

  5. Everything is going Green these days, so you might as well jump on the band wagon and help save the environment and a simple way to start is through organic gardening. Light dep greenhouse