Cavendish Projects
The Oak and the Palm
There is a small, innocuous oil painting by Thomas Moran, the significant 19th century American painter of the Hudson River School whose landscapes were often the first image Americans in different places had of wonders like the Rocky Mountains.

The painting is called simply 'Beach Scene,' and it depicts a Florida beach, with a sailing ship at anchor out in the water, and a woman in a dress like a bunch of cascabel peppers walking toward you. Moran being a landscape specialist, according to his masterful composition neither the woman nor the ship are the star of his scene. Rather, two trees are. There, in the small center of this small painting, are an oak and a palm.

The oak and the palm. If you wish to understand Florida, both the north and the south, the beach and the backcountry, the polo and the barrel racing, the barbeque and the barranquilla, the oak and the palm are your only hope at metaphor.

In Moran's depiction, both trees look necessary. Stare at his modest achievement for a moment and you can't re-envision the scene absent one of them. Which is quite a trick, since oaks aren't typically found right on the dune line of a beach. The master painter compressed the typical proximity of the trees as we find them in a natural state, but that is what makes the visual metaphor.

Both trees in real life are known for their profound longevity. The proudest palms, such as the Royal Palms, age and grow--straight up--for decades on end, with nary a wrinkle in their smooth green, banana skin bark. Oaks, like the Live Oak, grow far more slowly, and each year they take on within their tough grey bark--bark as rugged as a moon crater--the scars of wind and weather, and they grow gnarled. And in this sort of eonic undulation they take on, they become majestic. Fully realized, an oak's limbs are spread in a pattern as dynamic as a lightning bolt's jags.

Both are good trees to build civilization around.

Oaks stretching toward the sublime eternal sit next to convivial and welcoming palms. The oak carries the contemplative mind to thoughts of roots and anchors, or guarantees and safeguards, the palm lifts thoughts up to consider beauty and transcendence.

There are oak people and palm people. Oak places and palm places. The common error is to assume that only one of the two is aboriginal and therefore the habitat's quintessence.

How to understand Jacksonville, either at a remove or while visiting? Only reflect that Jacksonville has both the oak and the palm. Both thrive.

Photo credit Cavendish Projects