We are sometimes so caught up in the daily news about Covid-19 that some forget the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael in our area. So much progress has been made in the aftermath of the storm that it does give me hope that we can overcome this second great challenge we have faced in the past two years.
This past week I put to bed the last painful part of Hurricane Michael. Thankfully, our home in Donalsonville was spared though we suffered almost complete destruction in our yard. We lost almost every tree at our home except for three or four pines and the Toomer’s Oak descendant that we planted.
All of that was restored prior to selling our house. It warms my heart to see the new owner keeping the grounds up so well.
As I have mentioned previously, the eye of that monster storm passed over Compass Lake on its way to Donalsonville. It destroyed our lake house, dock, boathouse, boat, and jet ski. We have spent the last year and a half replacing all those items.
This lake house was graced by ancient live oak trees whose long limbs spread out across the driveway and the narrow lawn. The Spanish moss would occasionally hang so low that it would drape across your head as you walked by.
Lightening hit one of the old oaks 20 years ago. It died shortly after and took with it the shade around the area where we cooked and sat. It was replaced by a maple tree that flourished until Hurricane Michael took it away.
There were five other oak trees that met their demise during the storm. Most of them fell on a just completed, but not insured storage building. I had not even run power to the building when it was damaged.
However, there were two oaks that weathered the storm, on either side of the gate. They were the grandest of the grand. Unfortunately, the trees were beaten and broken. All the moss was blown away. It hurt my soul to look at them and remember what they had once looked like, but I wanted to give them a chance.
For a year, we have nurtured these old oaks. Gradually, you could see their decline manifest itself in more obvious ways. Old branches were dying. New leaves struggled to replace those falling away. They were monuments of what was once there and reminders of what was lost.
After 19 months I had to face the reality that they were not going to make it. It was time to let them go. I had them cut down this past week in the single most painful result of Hurricane Michael for me personally.
The trees were 48 inches in diameter. Their trunks were solid even as their limbs and leaves were dying. One had a one-inch square piece of tubing that was part of an earlier fence. It had been swallowed up in the tree and was five inches inside the bark.
It took two days to remove the two trees. The experienced tree surgeons told me they were the most difficult trees to take down in their career.
I traveled to Florida to see their removal. It was hard to watch. The results made the property look naked and bare. For all the improvements we have been making, it was only the removed trees that I was able to see.
After a day of mourning, I could begin to see the vision of the future. We will bring in some large live oak trees to replace them. They will be healthier and will be part of a landscape plan that did not exist previously.
I have lived in the shadow of what my great-grandparents, grandparents and parents built at Compass Lake over the past 117 years. What remains is the legacy that was left to me to restore.
One day, I hope my grandchildren will tell their children the story about how Granddaddy Dan planted these replacement oaks. They can tell the story of the monster storm and how the lake house became better than ever.
Most people will not understand how hard it was for me to cut down these old live oaks. Ironically, I am excited about what will replace them.
It was tough to let these once magnificent oaks go, but in doing so I am finally saying goodbye to Hurricane Michael. We won. The best is yet to be, for generations yet to come.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]