I used to live on Bayview Street directly across from this oak tree. People who had grown up in Fairhope told me when they were kids growing up they would climb to one of the welcoming lower limbs and sit for hours and read. This came from at least two people of different generations, making the oak symbolize to me the mood of Fairhope of a former day, when children climbed trees to read and spent hours just exploring, playing, and dreaming. Marietta Johnson once said, "The little child should have much time for play, and even for dreaming. If one may not dream in childhood, when will time be found for this accomplishment?"
The oak came to evoke the heart of Fairhope itself to me--like a sturdy, comforting friend. That venerable tree had held growing children in its limbs when they still had time to read and to dream. I never passed it without feeling a nostalgia for its embrace even though I had never felt it. It is something I visit when I go back to Fairhope, just to scope out the neighborhood, just to confirm my hope that some good things don't change.
This woodcut, produced in the early 1920's by Wharton Esherick, looks like the same oak tree to me. Over the years it's had a limb or two pruned, and it has lost its Spanish moss, but it continues to grow and spread and be the best tree it can. I sent a copy of the top picture to one of the lecturers from the symposium and he says without a doubt it is the same tree. I hope we're both right, and that Esherick saw his own children climbing in it, and maybe lingering with a book in its sturdy branches. It is a remnant of the best of Fairhope. Wharton Esherick appears as a minor character in my novel That Was Tomorrow, set in 1921 in Fairhope. For more about my book, visit my website.