Just outside of Rockport, Texas, stands an ancient Live Oak affectionately known as 'the Big Tree'. For well over 1,000 years, that towering tree has offered its long, cool shadow for weary locals to wade in -- and now they're returning the favor. After managing to survive centuries of hurricanes, fires, floods, lumberjacks and wars, the Big Tree is getting a helping hand to live through its latest challenge: drought. Volunteer firefighters, many of whom played among the Big Tree's branches as children, have begun watering it with their hoses in hopes that it will be around for their children's children as well.
The Big Tree, with its huge, sprawling branches, is believed to have first sprouted over a millennia ago, making it quite possibly the oldest and largest tree in Texas -- and its history is equally as remarkable. The oak's location, a stones throw from the Gulf coast, exposed it to countless storms over the centuries, and at least one unnatural disaster, too. During one battle of the Civil War, the town around the Big Oak was almost completely destroyed; the tree was among the few things left standing.
Nowadays, the Big Tree is maintained as part of Goose Island State Park, and a plaque placed nearby offers a voice to the old oak, with an inscription that reads: "I am a live oak tree and I am very old ... I can remember hundreds of hurricanes, most I'd rather forget, but I withstood."
But if the tree did have a voice, chances are it would be a bit hoarse.
Soaring temperatures and dry conditions have some locals worried that the Big Tree may succumb to drought. But for many folks who have visited the beloved Live Oak for decades, watching it wither away just wasn't an option they could live with. With that in mind, dozens of volunteer firefighters from several cities were called in to undertake what is perhaps their most unusual rescue operation: watering a 1,000-year-old tree.
Crew turned their hoses to the Big Tree's trunk and released a deluge of life-giving water, enough to replace what normal conditions for this time of year would provide, reports the Corpus Christi Caller Times:
It took 11,000 gallons of water to simulate half an inch of rainfall. If Tropical Storm Don doesn't provide a significant amount of rainfall, the tree would continue to be watered every 10 to 14 days, state park officials said.
About a month ago, the Big Tree was fertilized through 1,000 soil penetrations, but because of the lack of rain, park officials took action.
Richard Butler, a Fulton volunteer firefighter, has visited the Big Tree site for about 30 years. He remembers coming to the tree as a child to play and is glad he was able to give back to it.
"It's good history. I want to be part of it. 'Here I am, Mr. Oak,' " he said.
For a region so choked by drought that they've had to take measures to limit their own water usage, you might expect some folks to pooh-pooh at the plan to pour so much water into the ground for the sake of a tree -- but voices of dissent have been few and far between. Droughts will come and go, seems to be the prevailing sentiment, but this tree stays put. After all, its roots clearly hold much more than earth in place: a sense of pride in the community, too.
And who knows, perhaps the tree will still be standing in another thousand years, and the efforts taken to save it will make up yet another chapter in its rich and storied legacy.
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