Mary Tutwiler

Literary landmark under the ax

by Mary Tutwiler

A centuries-old live oak that is the inspiration for one of Louisiana’s greatest novelists is slated to be cut down this week. Known as “Miss Jane’s Tree,” the Pointe Coupee parish oak offers spiritual covering and sanctuary to the heroine in Ernest Gaines’ Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Gaines grew up in the area and has known the ancient oak since he was a small boy.

Earlier this week, Gaines was contacted by an employee of Pointe Coupee parish government who called to inform him of the imminent removal because she knew how much the tree meant to the award- winning writer. The tree overhangs La. 416, near False River. The state Department of Transportation and Development determined that the tree, which dropped a large limb on July 4 into the road, is a hazard to the public. However, Pointe Coupee County Agent Miles Braisher has asked for a reprieve while he calls in a tree expert to examine the condition of the oak. “It’s a great old tree,” says DOTD Pointe Coupee area engineer Chad Vosburg. “We don’t want to cut it for sure, but we have our obligations to look out for the safety of the public.”

Gaines informed his colleagues in Lafayette about the demise of the landmark oak, and there is an effort underway to petition the state to spare the historic tree. Gaines wrote this passage about the oak in his 1971 novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman:
There’s an old oak tree up the quarters, where Aunt Lou Bolin and them used to stay. That tree has been here, I’m sure, since this place been here, and it has seen much, and it knows much much. And I’m not ashamed to say I have talked to it, and I’m not crazy either. It’s not necessary craziness when you talk to trees and rivers...But when you talk to an oak tree that’s been here all these years, and knows more than you’ll ever know, it’s not craziness; it’s just the nobility you respect.