by Gerald McLeod (published May 19, 2000)
Is it the demise of the Tree of Life or a sad reminder of the sometimes cruel power of Mother Nature? Depending on who you talk to about the defoliation of the Live Oak tree at the top of Enchanted Rock, it is either a sign of the sad state of our world or just another casualty of the continuing drought that has gripped Central and Southern Texas for the past eight years.
The beauty and uniqueness of the park make it one of the most special places in the state. Nothing is more inspiring than to see the tenacity of plants clinging to life in a crack in the rock or the thinnest layers of soil. The ability of a lone Live Oak tree to survive in a vernal pool at the summit of the mount should inspire an appreciation for the sanctity of life to all who see it.
On his Web site (www.texfiles.com/enchantedrockpics/index.htm), Ira Kennedy calls the Live Oak at the top of the granite outcropping "a living metaphor for the Tree of Life." For centuries before European settlers invaded the area, the mostly bald pink mountain was a sacred place to the native tribes.
Even today in our modern world of manmade miracles, a visit to the dome is a moving experience for anyone willing to listen. Much like the mountains, rivers, and oceans emit an energy that can tug at our souls, Enchanted Rock generates its own magnetic field.
A native to Central Texas, Ira Kennedy has developed a special affection for Enchanted Rock. As a leading authority on the history and folklore of the mountain, he has also been one of its staunchest defenders. A photographer, artist, and writer, Kennedy published Enchanted Rock magazine for several years.
Kennedy has turned to Web design and publishing since selling the magazine to a local publishing company. His www.texfiles.com site continues his love for the history, lore, and conservation as a depository of information on the granite mountain and the surrounding area. Since April 23, Kennedy has been providing a chat room of messages about the plight of the Live Oak.
Bill Black Eagle brought the problem to Kennedy's attention. In a letter addressed to "True Human Beings," Black Eagle wrote: "The message I am trying to get out is not 'save our trees' but that this is the sacred tree at the summit of the holy mountain. It has survived worse droughts. It is questionable that people could do anything to save the tree through intervention -- which might cause more harm than good. At this point it is hard to say there is anything that can be done. My concern is that nobody seems to know or care that this is happening."
Visitors to Kennedy's Web site have been expressing their concern for the tree and love of the rock in droves. Most have shown an appreciation that goes beyond feelings for any common public park.
Kennedy responded by writing, "There are numerous trees in this state natural area suffering from the same condition. However, this tree is considered by many to be a living metaphor, or symbol, for the Tree of Life, and as such demands special consideration."
Ron Trippet, Texas Parks and Wildlife superintendent of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, says, "Ira has done a lot for the park, but there's not much we can do (about the tree's condition). While it's not exactly Treaty Oak, we haven't given up on it either."
The Hill Country has been going through a series of wet and dry spells that have effected a lot of the vegetation in the area. Rainfall in the area was drastically low January through March, Trippet says, but was catching up in April. Enchanted Rock SNA gets only 22-24 inches of rain in an average year. The problem is they're getting it all at once instead of spread out across several months.
He thinks that the tree is just stressed. "We've seen Live Oaks go leafless and then come back," Trippet says. He does not believe that the tree at the summit has been poisoned because there would be obvious signs. Also, the tree probably did not contract oak wilt, a disease spread by roots, because it is so far away from other trees.
If park visitors want to carry water up to the tree, Trippet says he's not going to stop them. But a gallon of water weighs a little more than eight pounds, and it would take 50 gallons at least twice a week to make a difference. "I'm not sure it would do any good," he added, "and how much of nature do we really need to mess with?"
"For many people the plight of this tree is irrelevant," Kennedy writes on his Web site. "For others it is critical. Between the two is a world of opinion and interest. Perhaps this tree is the canary in the cage. Or it maybe, as native people are inclined to interpret, an omen of things to come."
Perhaps the best that a visitor to the sacred mountain can do is carry an extra bottle of water to the top and offer it and a prayer to the gods of Enchanted Rock for the survival of the tree and our planet
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