I have a thing for trees. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’ve always been a nerd.

I think it all dates back to my days in Boy Scouts. My cousin Ed Lee and I were second-class Scouts, and we earned our forestry merit badges one summer. Actually, I earned both his badge and mine. He mainly read Archie comic books while I did all the fieldwork.

I’ve been obsessed with trees ever since. Namely, because I’ve always felt that trees are the strongest things you’ll ever see. Trees endure the hell of an earthly life, and they just keep on living.


The first officially published story I ever wrote was about a longleaf pine. The story was published in my small hometown paper in Florida.

In Florida, the longleaf is our flagship specimen. At one time, they covered 90 million acres in the southeast. Now they cover less than 3 percent of that.

Throughout history, mankind has ceremoniously massacred longleafs to build his railroads, his battleships, his Dave and Buster’s and his crappy D.R. Horton express homes.

The mighty longleaf is endangered, in case you were wondering.

I will go out of my way to visit a good tree.

There was the Angel Oak, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. The oldest oak east of the Mississippi. Sixty-five feet tall, 28 feet in circumference. Its branches cover 17,000 square feet. The largest limb reaches 187 feet long. The tree is 500 years old, predating Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

I’ve also seen the Methuselah tree, in the Inyo National Forest. The tree stands in a distant location between the Sierra Nevada range on the California-Nevada border.

The Methuselah is 4,853 years old. That’s a Stone Age tree. It’s not just the oldest tree on earth. It is the oldest living organism on Earth. You want to talk about strong?

The exact location of the Methuselah is kept secret to prevent vandalism. A former park ranger showed it to me privately. I placed a hand on Methuselah’s gnarled trunk and I cried.

My favorite tree, however, stands in Thomasville, Georgia. It is a live oak, (Quercus virginiana). The tree is 338 years old.

There is just something about it.

You can see the oak standing on East Monroe Street. It’s always a little surprising when you first lay eyes on it.

You don’t expect to see a tree this huge in a residential section of town. One minute you’re driving through cutesy historic houses and then, boom, there’s a tree bigger than the Chrysler Building.

The limbs span 165 feet, and are covered in green resurrection ferns. The tree’s base has a 26-feet circumference.

A lot goes into keeping this tree healthy. There is an underground watering system. An above-ground watering system. There are steel cables to support the heavy limbs and keep them from snapping. The tree has its own on-call arborist, its own surgeon, and its own dedicated IRS agent.

When you stand beneath the impressive Thomasville Oak at dusk, as small-town life eddies around you, as people drive kids home from school, as folks get home from work, you cannot help but be moved by the tree’s simple power.

The crickets sing an evening chorus. The Georgian air is balmy. And you can’t help but do what President Eisenhower once did when he visited this same tree. You take selfies.

The last time I was at this tree, I took many photographs. And I wrote a column about the tree.

The next morning, I received an email from a woman in Connecticut. Her name was Lucinda.

Lucinda is originally from Thomasville. Her mother was born beneath the shade of this exact tree. In fact, the Thomasville Oak is growing on Lucinda’s family land.

She and I became friends after that. Because that’s how special trees can be.

And as I write this, Lucinda’s family is gathered around her bedside because she is seriously ill. Her prognosis is not good. They are trying to make her comfortable.

I know Lucinda will read this because she reads everything I write. Because Lucinda is the kindest, sweetest human you’ll ever meet, and she has supported me from Day One. And I love her.

Which is why I just wanted to say here, publicly, that I misspoke earlier, when I began this column. Trees are not the strongest things I have ever seen.

Lucinda Secrest McDowell is.


  1. Dee Thompson - March 20, 2023 7:07 pm

    I had no idea there was such an ancient and beautiful tree in Thomasville! I knew about the Angel Oak. I found some great photos of the Thomasville tree online. Thanks for sharing about it. I said a prayer for Lucinda, and for her family. BTDT. I hope the Lord is merciful, whether it’s her time or not.

  2. Sandra Pritchett - March 20, 2023 8:03 pm

    2 trees to visit in Alabama: The Constitution Oak in Geneva and The Boyington Oak in Mobile. They are impressive!

  3. Michelle Cox - March 20, 2023 9:53 pm

    Thank you so much. Cindy is a dear friend and she is a jewel. I’ve been blessed to have her in my life.

  4. Daphne Woodall - March 20, 2023 11:28 pm

    Sean I started to contact you about Lucinda as I knew she had been at your recent event. Thank you for sharing here. I along with hundreds have sat under her teaching at writing conferences. She’s a special lady and a great example of a woman of faith. I’ve seen only pics of the tree but maybe I’ll visit one day when I visit where my birth dad was born in Georgia. We have lots of trees and birds on our few acres.

  5. Gg - March 21, 2023 1:44 am

    The Big Tree on Goose Island is the oldest live oak tree in Texas. It has a circumference over 35 feet and 44 feet tall. You might want to check it out one day. It also survived Hurricane Harvey. I love trees too. Praying for Ms Lucinda.

  6. Janet McHenry - March 21, 2023 4:43 am

    Thank you, Sean. This is so true, as I’ve known Cindy for over 30 years.

  7. Patti Connell McWhorter - March 21, 2023 12:54 pm

    I grew up with “Cindy,” as we called Lucinda when we were young. I admired her then, and I’m awed by her legacy now. Thank you for honoring her with your talented words.

  8. Laura Acuna - March 21, 2023 2:36 pm

    Thank you, Sean. She loved you.

  9. Maureen Miller - March 21, 2023 10:03 pm

    Oh, Lucinda is one of the most encouraging, inspiring people I know, and I’ve been blessed by her friendship since 2017. Thank you for this.

  10. Cynthia - March 22, 2023 5:50 pm

    I’ve been blessed to know Lucinda Secrest McDowell for 25 years. She is truly a woman of God who enriches the lives of everyone she meets. Thank you for this beautiful, well deserved tribute to my precious friend.

  11. Jim Douglas - March 24, 2023 2:54 pm

    Cindy and I met in college at Furman University 50 years ago. we’ve been fast friends ever since . she did love that oak tree and she did love you Sean. ( She introduced me to you!). thank you for making this beautiful tribute to her. No doubt she is really blessed by your words as are her wide circle of friends all over the world. You are a good man, Sean. Keep up the good work!

    Jim Douglas, Nashville,TN

  12. Susan Zurcher - March 27, 2023 4:02 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to Lucinda. While I never met her, I wish I had. I have heard so many wonderful and inspiring thing about her. Thank you for this very sweet post. Side note: we were just at the Boone Hall plantation in Charleston and were told they had a 650 year old oak up by the house.

  13. evamarieeverson - April 5, 2023 6:18 pm

    It has taken me days–weeks–to comment. Cindy was and always will be such a dear person in my life. She “got” me. We taught together. We sang together. We prayed together. We loved Jesus and life together. We had both married into ready-made families and understood the ups and downs that come from this. Her friendship and her love were truly to be treasured. I will be in Thomasville next month . . . and I will try to visit the Thomasville Oak . . . to think of her . . . and the kind of strength she possessed and shared.


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