There is a sentinel among us who has witnessed a thousand years of humanity. As a youngster, she looked on as Native Americans lived off the land, hunting and fishing with the aid of bone pointed arrows, blow guns and nets in pursuit of alligator, deer, aquatic animals and fish. Over the centuries, she grew to expand her role offering food and protection to families and animals alike and opening her arms to generations of children delightedly playing beside her. She would provide shelter and medicine even as progress marched on around her. What stories she would tell, if she could, of glorious sunlit days, of the pain and joy of birth, the flowering of art and culture, the whispers of lovers who knew she would keep their secrets safe and the tragedies she saw her people endure at the hands of nature, and sadly, other men. Today, she is a venerated matriarch and celebrated for her beauty and magnitude. In the neighborhood of Lewisburg near Lake Pontchartrain, she stands the Seven Sisters Oak—always reaching, taking what’s needed to continue growing in order to nourish a great capacity for giving back
While our area is blessed with a proliferation of oak trees – City Park in New Orleans holds the record for the largest stand of oaks in the country at over 200 — Mandeville is the seat of the nation’s crowning jewel as reported by the Live Oak Society. According to Society bylaws, the only human member permitted in the Society is the honorary Chairman, who is responsible for registering and recording live oak members. The requirement for becoming a member is that the live oak have a girth (trunk circumference) of 8 feet or greater, measured 4.5 feet above ground. The Seven Sisters Oak dwarfs that requirement with a girth of nearly 40 feet, a height of nearly 70 feet and a crown spread of nearly 140 feet earning it status as the largest registered tree and the title of President of the Live Oak Society. Its estimated age? As many as 1200 years old.
The mighty oak tree carries important symbolism going back to ancient times. Many cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Germans and Nordics associated the tree with their lightning and thunder wielding deities with familiar names like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor. Like these storied gods, the oak symbolizes strength, resilience, solidity and truth. It can represent protection and healing, but at the same time, it can be the symbol of justice. Based on their worthiness, those seeking shelter in stormy times would either find salvation or death under the oak tree. Its energy was thought to be healing, offering divine strength, wisdom and courage in overcoming problems, especially in terms of physical health and self-confidence. The oak is anthropogenic, meaning that it is at the root of many creation stories of ancient traditions. Native Americans as well as ancient Celts believe the oak is representative of Mother Earth — nature itself, and the she is the protector and the ruler of all things. The tree was venerated and respected as a source of sustenance, life and peace. These cultures didn’t feel the need to build places of worship, as nature provided it’s own shrine in which to worship the divine.
But one doesn’t need a history lesson to experience the magical properties of the sprawling giants. Like the ancients, many modern-day tree lovers experience a natural power of serenity and strength in the presence of these magnificent beings and particularly one as regal as the Mandeville natural wonder. Originally registered at the Live Oak Society as “Doby’s Seven Sisters” in 1968, it was named so because the Doby family owned the property where the tree grew, and Mrs. Doby was one of seven sisters. Prophetically, the tree bears seven huge limbs in a striking coincidence between its shape and the family who would bring it notoriety well into its maturity. Since then, the tree has been renamed “Seven Sisters Oak” and re-registered with the Live Oak Society. And true to its symbolic heritage, it continues to solidly endure, even weathering a potentially devastating near lightning strike during Hurricane Katrina. This fairytale-like oak tree is now lovingly cared for by property owners John and Mary Jane Becker who have resided at the Northshore home for over 13 years.
Like the Seven Sisters Oak with its record-breaking trunk and crown, the Celtic tree of life is usually represented by a large oak with long and complicated weaves. The trunk represents the physical world; the roots – a connection to lower worlds, and the branches reaching up — the connection to the heavens. In total, it represents one’s life journey, the paths chosen and the opportunity to grow and change. In Christianity, the Oak is a symbol of Jesus as a power in difficult times — perseverance in faith. During trying times, the tree stays strong, deeply rooted in the ground. In the spirit of what the oak tree has stood for since before history was recorded, the Seven Sisters Oak stands proud and true, remaining an example to her short-lived human companions. Roots planted firmly, honoring traditions and origins yet always reaching, taking what’s needed to continue growing in order to nourish a great capacity for giving back.