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Trees can bring comfort

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Tree Talk, Joanna Angle

Trees can be source of comfort

Recently my dear friend Lindsay Pettus of Lancaster sent me an article from americanforests.org’s magazine titled, “Finding Strength and Solace in a Tree.”

It was written by Dr. Jeff Kirwan, emeritus professor of forestry at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources. He is co-author of “Remarkable Trees of Virginia,” which showcases over 100 of the commonwealth’s largest and oldest trees and those noteworthy for their beauty, historic significance and local importance. Of those featured, the first tree that Dr. Kirwan personally visited is a white oak standing near the center of Marion, Va., a small town tucked in a valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. Known as Sallie’s Crying Tree, it symbolizes the sometimes passionate relationships people have with trees. The story dates to the 1840s.

Sallie was a little five-year-old slave girl when the local man who owned her family sold her parents to someone living 150 miles away in Lynchburg. Left alone, Sallie was required to become the body servant of her owner’s ill wife. Bereft, with no one to comfort her, Sallie became attached to this tree. She is said to have talked to the tree, hugged it, cried and prayed beneath its spreading limbs.

The tree was her refuge. Sallie’s granddaughter, Evelyn Thompson Lawrence, noted that, “Like the tree, Sallie had to weather many storms, and yet she stood strong.”

Dr. Kirwan quotes Ms. Lawrence as saying “if the Crying Tree could talk, it would tell us that slavery was brutal, that people were sold like horses and dogs, that life was especially hard on black men and women. But it would also tell how valiant people are, how former slaves built communities and how their descendants are today’s leaders.”

After freedom finally came, Sallie helped found Mount Pleasant Methodist Church. She married and had 10 children, making sure that they received an education. Her daughter, Susie Madison Thompson, Lawrence’s mother, became the first black teacher in three area schools. Lawrence herself holds a master’s degree in music, taught in Marion County schools or 44 years and has served in numerous leadership roles in that community. The Crying Tree’s inclusion in “Remarkable Trees” has inspired readers from far away to visit Marion to stand in its presence.

They come trying to better understand the life of African Americans enduring slavery and to pay tribute to a living icon from that time.

Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.