Mr. Al meets Mr. Foret… …meets Mr. Prairie

I only know a portion of the story but what I know makes me feel all warm inside. Back a few years ago, when the State decided to add service roads to highway 90 in New Iberia, a large Live Oak tree was in their way, so the highway department planned to move it, after getting guff from tree-hugger types.

And move it they did! There was a lot of back-and-forth about what to do with the guy, some wanted to cut it down and tip their hat to progress. And a few wanted the old guy to be saved and moved to a new location, out of the way of progress. Mr. Al is the affectionate name given to the tree by its friends (actually, I don’t know why it wasn’t named Ms. Alice).  Al, I am sure, just wanted to simply live out the rest of his life in peace and relative quite.

A tree moving company was brought in to move the big guy a mile down the road to an the southeastern quadrant of the intersection just north of where it was planted as a child (he was “little Al”, back then)

Arborist, Professor of Horticulture, and local tree-whisperer, Jim Foret was called in to consult on the move and to care for the beast-of-a-plant after it was moved to its new digs. I don’t know anyone more qualified or caring (careful) to do the job of helping the 100 year old Mr. Al transition to this new home than Jim Foret.  Jim grew up in a horticulture family. His Dad and Mom are famous in the realm of Louisiana horticulture. Jim (his good friends call him Possum), has been nurturing the big guy for about a year and a half or two now and Old Al seems to be settling in pretty well.

It is quite an interesting story of how this fellow was moved. Basically, it all rests (literally) on the casing pipe that is manually lined up under the massive root ball( I think Jim said the root ball was forty feet in diameter and three feet deep). A total of 800,000 pounds of tree. It is then lifted by placing I-beams under the pipe and is lifted by crane so a massive, 90 wheel trailer, specially built to move ships and such, is moved under, so that it can then be hauled away.

(click on photos to enlarge)

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above: Al, feeling up-lifted

Al was dug, moved and planted. Planting consisted of simply placing the old fellow on the ground in the place it would stay and then hauling soil from the old site to the new one, to be place along the edge of its rootball, basically building a huge raised bed in which Mr. Al could get back to growing. Jim has regulated the irrigation water all this time through a water well that was drilled for the purpose of keeping a smile on Al’s face. Jim went about incorporating micorrhizae, to correct all of the soil disturbance that occurred in the transition. He has done soil spade work on the guy’s roots and of course he has performed his famous whispering, encouraging Old Al to hang in there.

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above: Al, headed to the new hacienda!

And hang in there Al did. He is looking pretty sharp as you drive by.

I sat down recently with Professor Jim and one of his many “students”. You see, not all of Jim’s students are or were actual students of his. Many of his followers are non-academic students or students that he guides but didn’t formally teach: folks like me, who didn’t take courses under Jim, but were taught by him none-the-less. Over the years, he has cultivated a crop of these non-university students as well as the university-type. Jim and one such “student”, Ryan Duhon, a young whippersnapper and thirty year old Department of Transportation supervisor, met me for lunch so that we could all discuss designing a prairie meadow for the two acre site around Mr. Al, for the purpose of demonstrating the utility and beauty of native prairie, as an official Louisiana State Highway Department exercise.

We got all of our ducks in a row and we’ll begin soon to do a one year preparation of the site for planting seed and prairie plugs in November 2014.

I am pretty sure Mr. Al, if asked, would speak highly of the idea. What a better complimentary notion is there for a hundred year old native plant to be accompanied by other ancient, natural plants . Pretty sure this will bring back fond memories of times once known, for Al.

It should make him feel more at home.

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above: Al, Possum, Charles Allen and myself: four old guys, February 2012

2 thoughts on “Mr. Al meets Mr. Foret… …meets Mr. Prairie

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