The name Fair Oaks is apropos to this place whose majestic Live oaks bear drapery of Spanish Moss waving languidly in a soft breeze. The land is dotted with incredible Live oaks and Live oak hammocks, as well as several other species of oak and many, many other impressive trees. In my brief history here, I have had the pleasure of sharing in the discovery of several significant trees, as well as enjoying the ones that didn’t need to be found.
Before we “rediscovered” several oaks near the house, I had the joy of seeing and spending time with the Live oaks that ring the pond. One on the eastern shore was named “Winged Victory” for its resemblance to the famous Greek statue in the Louvre. Majestic, awe-inspiring and uplifting of soul, it stands a sentinel to the pond and to the history that has happened all around it. The cistern (now restored and amazing!) is close by, and surely the plantation house, many years gone, was there when Winged Victory was half its age. That tree stood witness to the dock extending out into Clear Pond where gentlemen callers could sail to court a young lady, and still be under the watchful eye of the family. I know it watched over the Indians as they came to fish and hunt around the pond before the Europeans settled in that area.
At the north end of the pond is Holy Ground, where a massive oak stands majestic and proud. That huge tree, Holy Ground Oak, spreads shade over a large area, creating a lovely and hallowed place to meditate on life, have a picnic, or just lounge and take in the world; to view the pond and the sweeping land to the south that is breathtaking in its beauty, with the big, white, house framed in the background. Holy Ground is special to me, as it was special to Faye and I learned to appreciate much about Fair Oaks from her. I have laid there in the grass and listened to the Sand Hill Cranes calling, listened to the crows and turkeys; listened to Chief whinny in his pasture. On a cool, fall day I have laid there and listened to the wind, watching it play in gusts on the pond; ripples moving in ever widening circles, swallowing one another. I have picnicked there laughing and enjoying the sun, sharing that time with and giving treats to Joy and Happy. And I know Joy spent special time there near the end of her life. It is truly a holy place.
In the back yard of the house is the Hidden Oak. We didn’t quite know the shape or size of that Hidden Oak for some time. Faye’s husband Guy brought some cold-weather farming practices with him from Tennessee, one of which was digging a pit in order to store silage for the winter months. (It is neither a concept nor practice that translates well to semi-tropical Evinston, Florida.) There was also a semi-excavation for a bomb shelter in that area. So there was a hole started and it expanded and contracted, and over the years it had become filled with all manner of junk and non-native bamboo, creating a screen that kept the wonderful oak (now with the rope swing) from being seen or appreciated, hence its name Hidden Oak.
In a rough diagonal from the Hidden Oak towards the north/north west, is the Forgotten Oak on the edge of the swamp. Again, it was camouflaged in a riot of growth and greenery and what a hidden treasure to “discover”. It stands in a cove on the edge of the swamp, with a glorious crown, casting its wide shade and helping the St. Augustine grass maintain a hold against invasives. It has the perfect limb for a swing, the chair kind, but it is pretty close to the water so there is the potential for bugs. An alley of cypress trees leads away west and upland from the Forgotten Oak towards the north east edge of field 2. That alley runs along the edge of Hunkey’s Hammock, to the south, where the camellias are the first to bloom in January and the rare gopher wood trees have finally taken root. The cypresses are approximately 15 years old now and impressive in their size and color in the spring and fall.
At the north end of Chief’s pasture, again near the pond and the cistern, is a wonderful hammock of Live oaks. It is always in dappled shade, and relatively free of undergrowth due to that cover. A sour Orange tree grows there that was a happy discovery, and just beyond is an alley of Ligustrum hedges that are about 50 years old. The alley was damaged with a fallen tree a few years back, but has mostly recovered. When it is in bloom, the air is thick with the sound and movement of bees and a heady fragrance.
One of my newest favorites is on the property that now closes the Fair Oaks “L” into a square. It is at the east side of the new property and how awesome to “find” it. I have to say that for me it is one of the most impressive of the Fair Oaks’ Live oaks. I call it Cathedral Oak and think it is at least 400 years old, if not more. Tall, tall, with limbs that flow down to the ground all around it in graceful curves, creating a room beneath that is almost like being underwater; the air is all green with leaves and light mingling. What an incredible space! In that soaring room, that shelters one from the world, there is a sense of magic and wonder. I seek out the Cathedral Oak when I am at Fair Oaks. Like Holy Ground, I revel in the presence and mystery of something larger and older than me. That may sound “new age”, but truly I find it renewing and inspiring to be in that space.
If you don’t know Fair Oaks, you should pay a visit. It is a little bit of Old Florida, wilderness and beauty that will transport, and quite possibly transform you into a new person.
And you may discover a special tree of your very own.