Life around Rockport changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. The storm forced people from their homes and patients from hospitals and turned quiet streets into turbulent torrents. For millions of residents it was a terrifying, catastrophic, tragedy.
Amid this ongoing disaster, one iconic local inhabitant stood its ground: the magnificent Big Tree at Goose Island State Park, 10 miles north of Rockport. With a height of 44 feet, circumference of 35 feet, and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey for more than 1,000 years.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page posted a photo of the tree on August 28, surrounded by the wreckage of its brethren. Younger trees, they wrote, might have perished in the calamitous storm—but “you don’t get old by being weak.” Texans seem to have found some solace in this 44-foot pillar of strength. Local resident Dana Brotherwood thanked them for putting the photo up, adding: “I know it’s silly but if he can make it, then no matter what else we as Texans can keep going. I am just so happy to see this.”
The Big Tree, as it’s usually known, is one of the oldest, most well known live oak trees in the United States. In its 1,000 years, it has survived hurricanes, fires, and even an 1864 Civil War battle that razed the rest of the town, Lamar, to the ground. The tree has its own dark history as well, as it has variously been associated with hangings, cannibalism, or pirates.
Despite technically being the second-oldest live oak in the state—dethroned in 2003 by the discovery of an older tree in Brazoria County—it is much beloved and has inspired some fervent tributes from local poets, mostly written from the tree’s perspective.
The “Big Tree” statistics:
- Trunk circumference: 35 feet 1.75 inches or 10.71 meters
- Average trunk diameter: 11 feet 2.25 inches or 3.41 meters
- Crown spread: 89 feet or 27.1 meters
- Height: 44 feet or 13.4 meters
- Age: In excess of 1,000 years
The tree has inspired several poems. A favorite is by local resident Mary Hoekstra:
I have gathered sun and rain to grow green leaves,
Swaying softly in spring, rustling like applause in fall.
My limbs have shaded generations;
My roots have reached for centuries;
My children and their children’s children surround me,
Here in this peaceful part of my land.
Golden sunlight diamonds have glinted on the ground around
Cold fingers of ice have touched my heartwood.
Dust-dry days of sandstorms have scoured my skin.
Torrents of rain, driven by gales have rushed at me,
And I have swayed, but stayed unbroken.
Silver moonlight has kept me company many a night.
Yet through all the seasons, sorrows, bitterness, and
All of the history I have withstood and witnessed,
There has been one thing I could not do.
I could not grow green dollars, or silver, or gold.
Will you help me, standing here before me?
Then we may both grow old together,
As old friends should,
One of flesh, one of wood.
There are smaller live oaks surrounding this venerable old tree almost as beautiful. The age of it and the graceful, gnarly limbs pulled me, too, towards it. Maybe I thought of it as a survivor—a testament to standing in the face of adversity.
Texas Spoken Friendly
You don’t get old by being weak.