Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Live Oaker's, Iron Men For Wooden Ships
The exquisite live oak above grows in our woods, surrounded by younger trees that hide it's magnificent spread. Most visitors here never see it due to the screening of younger trees and the excellent cooking which always draws our guests to the kitchen, rather than the forest.
Sometimes, I stand under this tree and imagine a tiny writing shack nestled under it's canopy, or maybe elevated up into it. Each time I have this daydream, I wrestle with changing this scene in any way. I don't anguish over it mind you,...it's more like an internal debate that never gets resolved. Lucky for me feeding,housing, and educating 3 teens keeps the "what do I do with all this spare money" problem at bay.
The beautiful twisty spread of this live oak tells me it started out in a clearing. In deep forest, the same tree will be tall and fairly straight. Such trees are rare anymore as is deep, mature forest. These live oaks have extremely strong wood and were once highly sought after for shipbuilding. Crews of woodcutters, called "live oakers" searched the forests of 18th and 19th century Florida for live oak of the correct shape and composition for ship construction. I mentioned live oakers in my very first post here at Pure Florida, but did not explain the term.
Of course, no one was paying attention back then, but since then Pablo has (back in Feb '06) visited that first post and asked about live oakers. Note: I turned off blogger's email comment notification long ago, as I didn't like all the email clutter, so I missed his retro comment when he made it. I stumbled upon it recently, hence this post.
To me, the live oakers were the Florida equivalent of the mountain men of the west. They lived a rough, wandering, life which took them all over wild Florida searching for the right trees to cut...and then transport. You can imagine that those live oaks nearest waterways went first as Florida was roadless frontier much later than most eastern states. You can't blame them for hitting the coastal and river forests first. This wood is incredibly dense and heavy. Cutting and then moving it over land had to be backbreaking work.
Apparently, the live oakers were pretty efficient at their jobs, as the US Navy became concerned about not having enough live oak for naval ship construction. In 1828, as a result of this concern, the government created one of our first protected forests , Naval Live Oaks, near Pensacola,Florida.
It's tempting to romanticize the life of a live oaker. Through rose colored glasses, he's strolling through beautiful forest, axe over shoulder, searching for the perfect live oak...totally free.
In reality, it was a rough life of difficult physical work in intense heat, humidity, biting insects, bandits, and isolation. Even with that, they managed to cut huge amounts of virgin live oak trees.
I'm just glad the chainsaw wasn't invented until long after the era of wooden ships.
Posted by R.Powers at 11:18 AM