Heart of oak


Heart of oak

Devender Sellars art director art

A few years back, my mother purchased land in a rural area of North Central Florida — undeveloped land in a very beautiful and generally developed part of the South. A short hour drive north from her husband’s home on Highway 441 and close to the many springs of the area, the property has become a retreat for both of them. And to me, for the past two years it has been a perfect Christmas destination.

Duirwood is the name my mother gave the land, duir deined as the Celtic word for “oak.” On the land are a handful of massive live oak trees; their many branches fan out like excited octopi, arms reaching out in all directions to grab anything that comes near. The appendages grow close to the ground, so that the trunks themselves seem small in comparison. Roots go deep and wide; on the ground around no other trees attempt to grow. The trees are hardy and last through the few and sporadic freezes in the northern Florida winter.

This land of oak has provided the perfect holiday from my life for the past two years. My irst winter there I was given the task of clearing out brush to mark the property line. I quickly became aware of certain techniques to cut down various vines and branches with a machete. Careful consideration needed to be made to clear out only what was needed, to remove only what stood in the way.

In other ways, my holidays are much like everyone else’s. They always begin with the stress of preparations: purchasing gifts, packing, lastminute errands. A nine-hour drive is my escape.

By the time the large red van hits the dirt roads, I start the two-day process of relaxing and enjoying time away from my normal life. Two days without cell phones, computers, e-mail or the daily routine to which I am accustomed and enjoy. I trade in my electronic devices for a machete and a bonire, a sleeping bag and Thermarest.

Forcing myself to relax focuses my mind and gives me the perspective I need to really honestly look at myself, my life and what I’ve done over the past year. I often ind myself so busy or wrapped up in what I’m doing on a daily basis that I forget to take that step back. Duirwood gives me that chance. Moments pass quickly, and it is all to easy to forget to marvel at the joy in my life.

I ind myself just walking amongst beautiful live oaks, cypres, and pines. At the same time my mind wanders to past visits, marveling at where I have walked before. This year I got the chance to see the beautiful great horned owl that lives at the edge of the property. During the day.

Walks and land maintenance aside, Christmas morning has a familiar feel. We exchange presents. My mother wears a luffy Christmas sweater while artfully working a campstove and grill to ix a delicious dinner — this year was red snapper, tostones and an odd Key lime wine.

There is a small cypress swamp on one corner of the 30-acre land. Parts of the swamp sink underwater when it rains while others have damp, bouyant ground that feels as if it could give way one moment and catapult you into the sky the next. There are large portions that

are covered in a thick, persistent vine that quells the growth of the cypress. For the swamp and this section of the woods to lourish, the area will need to be burned in a controlled manner. The cypress trees are actually quite resistant to ire, and will live for a hundred years in the right environment. The small bald “knees” of youth grow into towering, magnificent trees.

I note the corollary to my life. In order to lourish, I must remove hazardous and dangerous aspects in my environment. Let go of those things that don’t help me grow. And that’s what my yearly trips to Florida help me see. At Duirwood I obtain the clarity to see the ground around my roots, and a clear path on which to grow.