Illustrator and writer Emma Fick is the published author of Snippets of Serbia. She is currently working on the illustrated book Snippets of New Orleans. To see more of Emma’s work and learn more about her, visit her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Illustration by: Emma Fick
Emma asks the walkers, riders, drivers, and passerbys to look down at the roots of New Orleans. On a typical night these haphazard roots can make New Orleanians question people’s agility, reflexes, or even intoxication levels. They play such a role in our lives that I went on a mission to find the oldest tree roots in New Orleans.
This turned out to be impossible when it came to fact checking.
But, what I did find was the 800-year-old tree in City Park that’s held up with support beams and has branches that reroot to give it further strength.
That’s right, that tree was in that spot 800 years ago. I couldn’t help but immediately ride my bike to the Mid-City library (ahem) branch and start researching the question on my mind. What in the world was going on during the life span of that tree?
The Birth of the City Park Tree (1215)
The Signing of the Magna Carta (June of 1215): King John of England was forced to put his seal to the Magna Carta. That sealed the fate of many men (sidenote: no reference to women anywhere). The Magna Carta outline the rights of landowning men (nobles and knights) and restricting the king’s power.
Getting to the “root” of it: When the Magna Carta was signed, that tree in City Park was being born.
The Toddler Years of the City Park Tree (1217-1219)
The Fifth Crusade (1217–1221): The Fifth Crusade was an attempt to take back Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land by first conquering the powerful Ayyubid state in Egypt. This history goes like this: fight–>travel–>another fight–>wins–>loses–>fight–>and ultimately Sultan Al-Kamil (the fourth Ayyubid sultan of Egypt) agreed to an eight-year peace agreement with Europe.
Getting to the “root” of it: While all that fighting turning into peace was going on, the tree in City Park was stretching its arms.
The Awkward Pre-Teen Years of the City Park Tree (1221-1231)
The Death of Genghis Khan (August 8, 1227): The Mongol leader who forged an empire stretching from the east coast of China west to the Aral Sea, dies in camp during a campaign against the Chinese kingdom of Xi Xia. And guess what Khan did? He basically created the first international postal system. It was called “Yam.” This medieval express consisted of a well-organized series of post houses and way stations strung out across the whole of the Empire. Official riders could stop at these “posts” and there would be goods and information left and sent there.
Getting to the “root” of it: While Genghis Khan was doing his thing and setting up the first postal service, the tree in City Park was wondering why it was so lanky and still had no friends.
The Teen Years of the City Park Tree (1231-1500)
I’m getting liberal with these years because our teens are big years for us. We start to discover boys/girls in a new way, we try out new looks, we start to rebel from our parents anyway we know how, and we explore the world of music, which reminds me of a little jingle we all might know.
“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Getting to the “root” of it: Exploration to this fair land of ours was taking place while that tree in City Park was checking out the fellow trees that were by now starting to take shape all around it.
The Wandering Years of the City Park Tree (1500-1600)
March 4, 1513: Ponce de Leon leaves Puerto Rico to explore the coast of Florida, looking for the Fountain of Youth. There were two hundred men and three ships undertaking the exploration.
1524 – Giovanni da Verrazano enters New York harbor during a French expedition from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. It is regarded by many as the first European exploration of the Atlantic seaboard of North America (assuming John Cabot did not return from his last voyage there) since the Norse expeditions five hundred years earlier.
May 25, 1539 – Hernando de Soto lands in Florida with nine ships and six hundred and twenty men at Shaw’s Point in today’s Bradenton, Florida, and begins to explore the interior of the Americas. They explored the western coast of Florida and encamped during the winter at Anhaica in Apalachee territory.
May 8, 1541 – The de Soto’s expedition was in full force, and after a Chicasaw raid earlier in the year, de Soto’s expedition was in dire shape. Doesn’t matter much because they push forward, reaching the Mississippi River and becoming the first documented Europeans to witness it. Hernando de Soto led his expeditionary force across the Mississippi River and would explore Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. This expedition lay claims to these territories for the Spanish.
September 8, 1565 – Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish admiral, founds St. Augustine, Florida. It is the first permanent settlement in the United States and serves as a military outpost and base for Catholic missionary settlements.
August 18, 1590 – John White’s return trip to the Roanoke Island Colony finds no signs of the colonists, beyond the words CROATOAN and CRO carved into tree trunks. The fate of its people is unknown to this date, and is often referred to as the “Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.”
Getting to the “root” of it: People all over the world were trying to find something–maybe even themselves–and possibly the tree in City Park was also having this exploratory stage.
Middle Age of the City Park Tree (1600-2015)
1718: The governor of French Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded the city of Nouvelle-Orléans on the first crescent of high ground above the Mississippi’s mouth.
1762 and 1763: France signed treaties ceding Louisiana to Spain. For 40 years New Orleans was a Spanish city, trading heavily with Cuba and Mexico. Then came the fires that we can thank for all those brick buildings–including the St. Louis Cathedral.
1803: I think we all know about the Louisiana purchase, but it’s still getting a shout out!
By 1900: The city’s streetcars were electrified
2015: This article was written
Getting to the “root” of it: New Orleans was growing and surrounding the tree in City Park with lights, music, people, food, grass, new kinds of wild life, and a vibrance that makes us all shudder in the best ways.
Elderly Years of the City Park Tree (???)
Perhaps our beloved 800-year-old tree is now moving into its elderly years. Perhaps not. There’s no way to really define its age until it’s gone, and that’s too sad to think about. So maybe–for now–we just sit on one of its stumps and hope it will tell us about its life.
Getting to the “root” of it: If wisdom comes with age, then we know exactly where to find some.