This University loves its trees, and so do I.
It’s right there in the first line of the alma mater — "where stately oaks and broad magnolias shade inspiring halls." As spring turns these famous live oaks greener and more resplendent than ever, I’m struck once again with awe and utter respect for the magnificence of trees.
I say "once again" because my first reckoning with this reality came in September 2020. I had just returned home to Lake Charles for the first time since Hurricane Laura. I walked along familiar blocks that would have been unrecognizable out of context — I was finding myself getting lost on streets I had navigated daily for sixteen years of my life.
I initially blamed my disorientation on the downed power lines, debris piles and heaps-that-had-once-been-houses. Yet even as clean-up crews repaired some structures and removed the biggest debris in the following months, I still mourned the town’s bleak and seemingly irreparable desolation.
It was because the trees were missing. So many had been toppled by the 150 mph winds, and those that survived were pointy shards; long, graceful branches lying scattered at their feet.
The trees were as disoriented by the change as I had been. Stripped of their leaves and believing they had experienced winter overnight, the town’s remaining trees erupted green in a September spring.
Why was I so upset about some trees? Why did I become so overwhelmed by the oak-lined streets of the Baton Rouge Garden District every time I returned after a weekend back home?
Green spaces reassure me that life prospers, and so shall I. I’ve only experienced aridity a few times in my life, but it always renders me deeply wary and sorrowful.
The desert is beautiful, but in the same distant way a fragile artifact under glass in a museum is beautiful. Trees are beautiful while also inviting you to touch their bark, climb their limbs, sit under their shade, enjoy their company. They are unbreakable — at least in times without hurricanes.
Buddha reached enlightenment under his Bodhi tree; a growing boy found sustenance in the sacrifices of a Giving Tree. Trees have long inspired comfort, devotion and contemplation in humans, prompting us to think about those we miss "more than anything,” as Mitski does on a “tree-lined street” in her song “Francis Forever.”
Wary of sounding like too much of a kooky tree hugger, I hesitate to personify trees too intensely. Yet the live oak, that most iconic of Southern trees, unmistakably mirrors the very people it represents, with its deep roots and wide, welcoming arms. It is hardy and thrives despite centuries of adversity.
The tree inspires others to embody its best traits: resilience, support and the slow enjoyment of life. My flesh and bones will likely be gone long before most of the trees on campus die, but I hope my life’s actions breathe the oxygen into my environment that my peers and descendants need to prosper.
Cécile Girard is a 21-year-old psychology junior from Lake Charles.