Destination Clearwater: A Tree Grows in Clearwater

Published June 2, 2012 here.
 Surrounded by buildings and cars, one oak tree maintains its majesty.

I used to work by the oak tree. I never thought much about it until someone pointed it out to me, even though I walked by it at least 10 times a week.

Oak trees are everywhere in Florida. No big deal. Certainly not as cool as cabbage palms tucked into every nook and cranny, or as funky looking as longleaf pines, once almost completely decimated thanks to timber mining. Pollen and spiders drop like crazy out of oak trees. They’re Florida’s forgotten tree, overlooked because in their commonality.

This tree, though… someone went through a lot of trouble to make sure it had plenty of chances to grow. It lives in a parking lot, shaded on one side by a county building and on another by an old pink church. The world changed around the tree. The palm thickets around the tree gave way to buildings, but for some reason, this tree got to stay.

Greenery surrounds its base, but the tree is so large that to allow the greenery to surround the tree’s entire drip line would mean no one could use the parking lot. There’s a lot of blacktop around this giant, henna-stained trunk. Stoop down and look closer, though, and you’ll tiny drains in the pavement, all spaced just underneath the edge of the tree’s branches. Some anonymous building owner or developer wanted to make sure the tree never went thirsty.

He’s a beast of a tree – there’s no way you’re wrapping your arms around his bumpy, gnarled trunk. Don’t even think about climbing this tree – the first crook is a good 20 feet above your head. Looking up, it’s a just a wrinkled collection of bark, not much use to anyone for anything but shade and spiders. Up top, the frilly dressing explodes in a hundred shades of green, from gloomy spinach colored leaves to cheerful kelly green ones. I cannot see but am certain that a careful society of squirrels, birds, anoles and snakes make good use of the frills and, as needed, each other.

This is not Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree; no little boy runs to her and collects her leaves. No one dares carve his initials into this tree’s stately trunk. In fact, I’d guess that most people who drive or walk by this tree don’t think of the tree at all.

Someone did, though, and because they did, the tree still stands. The drip line has grown past the drains, so the tree continues to stretch outward and skyward. Someone tends it, because no moss shrouds the leaves from the sun.

He may be just a tree, but in downtown’s concrete jungle and maze of asphalt, he flourishes. In the middle of cars and cement, the giant oak is a symbol of how Florida triumphs over itself, a wild bit of our state, tamed but not destroyed.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.