San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 7th, 2012
Letter: Let ailing oak die of natural causes

EDITOR’S NOTE: Texas State University officials say they do not believe the diseased tree near the River House recommended for removal is the historic Kissing Oak made famous by Sam Houston, who smooched local girls there while campaigning in 1857. However, resident Carl Deal says the tree in question is the one accepted by locals for decades as the Kissing Oak and the one pictured on a Texas Forest Service website along with an article about its history.



I was taken by the story of the Burr Oak’s tentative demise — the Kissing Oak by the River House. Yesterday (Sunday) I collected 39 of its acorns and planted them all – to at least preserve its genetic heritage.

I stood beneath that tree in the Sunday rain. I have stood there from time to time since 1976 – perhaps the most beautiful example of a Burr Oak we have in this town. Right now, each limb is bursting with life, budding in anticipation of the forthcoming Spring. In just a few weeks, it will adorn its ungainly broad and bright green leaves to shade the entire River House parking lot.

My mother is 89 and walks slowly – I have to do things for her now and I know that one of these days she will fall. I’m sure her doctor could do tests that would foretell something unfortunate, yet I have not once considered euthanizing her just because she might have a fungus on her foot, or thinks slower, or bumps into her trash can when she drives — or because I know that one of these days she will fall.

If it is the potential of a falling limb that has facilitated the decision to remove it, then let the argument include all of our Pecan trees — Texas’s self pruning tree. I would suggest that we let it be, and let it die a natural death. The parking lot hasn’t killed it yet. And if we are worried about your Hyundai, park it in a commuter lot and walk like the students do. Nature’s vitality is remarkable and that Burr Oak is likely to outlast most of us.

San Marcos

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10 thoughts on “Letter: Let ailing oak die of natural causes

  1. When I was a college student in San Marcos in the 70s, I was the ONLY student-age member of the Historical Society there, and reveled in the rich and storied history of San Marcos and the area. The “kissing oak” in question was universally regarded as the “Sam Houston Kissing Oak” by the octogenarian members of the historical association and citizens around town.

    Never once did I ever hear one person say “that tree is ASSUMED to be the Sam Houston Kissing Oak.” Or “the ACTUAL Kissing Oak may be a live oak.” Or much less “the REAL Sam Houston Kissing Oak MAY be among this small mott of live oaks.”

    For one, I cannot understand why this oak tree, so long accepted by the community as THE Kissing Oak was not better protected, nor a marker telling this significant history, and the City of San Marcos not marketing this story as a heritage tourism attraction. And even if the story universally accepted by the public were indeed legend, the mere fact that the legend endured over a century and a half is worthy of a marker on the tree and saving it.

    Austin’s Treaty Oak also has several legends attached to it, that may or may not be true. When it was poisoned by a crazed individual, all manner of scientific and biological efforts costing tens of thousands of dollars were spent in an effort to save it. From the reports at the time, hardly anyone placed bets on its survival. But against all odds, it survived after careful pruning of its massive branches, soil replacement, root stimulants, injections and fertilization.

    All I have read from the arborists studying the “Kissing Oak” are reasons why it should be cut down. Sonic root tests? Fungus at the base? They failed to list that it is also a nuisance because it drops large leaves in the autumn that require raking. Or that its large acorns cause small dents in the hoods of cars when parked underneath. Or that birds roosting in its branches sometimes poop on those same cars parked underneath, on the compacted gravel lot.

    There are oak trees growing throughout Central Texas, and yes, right in San Marcos, that seem to grow right out of solid limestone. Which is more dense–solid limestone–or compacted gravel?

    Which leaves me wondering what the REAL reason the tree must be removed–especially if the parking area is being relocated. Expansion of the River House?

    Something about this just doesn’t pass the smell test, and I don’t think it’s the rotting elephant ears along the San Marcos River bank below.

    Terry Tex Toler
    Director of Tourism
    Marfa, Texas

    Former Chair, San Marcos Convention & Visitor Bureau
    Former Chair, University Staff Council
    Former member, Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Tourism
    Former member San Marcos Historical Society

  2. Both oaks pictured are live oaks and both bore leaves tonight. The building in the image is the Scout Hut, a.k.a Sam Houston Lodge. I was there again tonight for a Scout meeting. From the photographer’s position, the burr oak is slightly behind and about fifty feet to the left. Tonight it was barren of leaves and fenced off from the remainder of the parking lot. I have gathered acorns from beneath that tree since the late 1950s. Those acorns are the size of a hen’s egg. I have thought since my childhood that the Kissing Oak was the larger of the two oaks pictured. My wife was born here and confirms my thinking. If the burr oak is cut down, I would pay to own a cross-section piece cut from her trunk to count her rings and to preserve her in memory for my lifetime.

  3. The Lorax: Yes, I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please. But I’m also in charge of the brown Bar-ba-loots, who played in the shade in their Bar-ba-loot suits and happily lived eating truffula fruits. Now, thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there’s not enough truffula fruit to go ’round!

  4. I am from Australia. I can’t remember how long ago this was but National Geographic Photographer Sam Abell took a picture of a Boab tree in the Australian Outback, this was published in one of their issues. It was a story about the Aboriginal people of Australia. It was a divine image of a beautiful lone tree in the Outback desert of Australia. Some few years later, he returned to the same tree only to find that it had died, struck by lightning and then hollowed out by termites. He took the same picture again, from the same perspective, and in some later issue – (not unlike the before and after images of the Afghan girl with the eyes) the two sat side by side, a testament to the power of Nature.

    If Sam Abell had known that the tree was going to be struck by lightning, and were to proscribe the the logic of killing a live tree, he should have cut it down the first time out – saving him the second trip. But then leaving us without the beautiful tree for about 8 years. See bellow for a picture of the tree:

  5. Carl, you brough up a very good point in tree preservation. I love the idea of propagating the seeds: this tree is good stock!
    What to do with an ailing tree is always hard when you consider its location. Many arborist, park, city or various land manager struggle with that very issue. When a tree is recognized to be unsafe, what to do with it, especially when its canopy is still so vigorous. This one is completely rotted at the base, as the report shows (see the link posted here in the mercury). It is not a branch that is at risk of failing but the whole tree.
    Seal the area and post warnings, just post warnings, cut the tree down, just live with it ? there are legal issues to consider also….Remember the issue a few years back at zilker park in austin when arborists identified numerous hazardous trees in frequently occupied areas? It brought much critisim to the park and rec dpt that failed to implement an agressive tree planting and tree preservation program. It ended up jumpstarting a proactive tree preservation (rescue) program and a lot of plantings were done since then.
    I just wish that preventive measure would be taken more often than they are now and trees would be planted more than they are… That parking area smothered the root system and gradually weakened it. Campus could have seen this coming. The bulk density of the material is pretty much the same as concrete. It is not a very pervious surface and the drought added a lot of stress to that scenario.

    BTW, the campus policy currently is to plant one tree to replace each one cut down. I would suggest planting 10 trees before anyone is cut down, then plant 4 more for each one cut. That way we may actually gain canopy, not lose it. Houston area planted 1 million last year along roadways, but lost 66 million to the drought…

  6. Vincent,
    I’ve said all I should say. It is a magnificent tree, I am happy to have enjoyed it and it should be spared. I have also had the privilege of planting another Burr Oak in Sewell Park some years back. Every other weekend for two years I watered, fertilized and pruned it and even planted bluebonnets at its foot. But I would challenge you to find any tree of the like in Hays County anywhere that has fallen over at its base. That’s just not what they do. Even in the graveyards of “Oak Wilt”, West of here, vast stands of dead, rotten oak still look like a forest. Redwoods in the foggy canyons of California – their cores burned out by fire long before the Spaniards came still stand for a thousand years – life’s testament to perseverance.

    They lose a branch, a limb or split in two – the victims of lightning, wind and storm, fungus, boring beetles, woodpeckers, fire and drought – and then they heal, grow more and stronger, in a different direction – holding the ground where they need to until their time eludes them.

    When a wayward limb lands on the Hyundai, it is an act of God. But when you declare one tree unsafe and at risk of failure (one tree of untold numbers with a shelf fungus here and there) and the limb then lands on the Hyundai, it has then and there become an act of negligence and not an act of God – you yourself creating your own liability and sealing its fate. How tragically convenient.

  7. Life is precious – a dream we seldom wake from. No matter who or what is living beside us it deserves to be. Just as we deserve to be. A tree would never want to be in the way. It is a fact that we are the ones who so often push our world up against the trees. We never walk or park our cars on the ground above the bodies of our dead. Yet we never hesitate to do either of those things on the living roots of the trees around us in our world. We push our roads, sidewalks, parking areas and pathways right up against their trunks. We hammer unconcerned on the living roots of the trees that sustain us. All living things have their own life to be in. Let the tree be for its life and as far beyond as we can.

    One thing that I will always remember is that we share our breath with trees. They release oxygen that we breathe in and fix carbon from the gasses we exhale into their leaves and other structures. In our life time, we release enough carbon into the world through respiration that every single living tree is likely to have some atoms of carbon in its leaves or other structures that we moved through our bodies. Let the miracle of that tree be if you can.

  8. Thank you Mr. Deal for your letter. Many of us did not know about this situation. Mr. Haney, we tried to get you a piece, the officer informed us that no one could have not even a little chip. These were his instructions. He was a very cool officer, although some of us are confused why if the city did not have jurisdiction over this tree why a city cop is on site and not UPD. Such a sad day for a community that purports to be PRO TOURISM. Such a sad day for Texas History lovers. I love the History of Sam Houston and the Alamo and this community. Regards, LM Coppoletta 512 644 6264

  9. Such old beautifull trees distinguish one city from the other. Especially the ones with great stories. Such as this one! I remember a year ago when in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) there was the same discussion about the tree that Anne Frank looked at from the small window in the back house. While in hiding from the Germans.

    Such trees can bring us back in time! I say try to keep the tree as long as your able to!

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