One of the great joys of traveling in the American south is experiencing those massive live oak trees that sprawl lazily across spacious lawns, parks and basically any place they choose. Think of the tree that Forest and Jenny played in in the movie Forest Gump. No Hollywood set designer could come up with something that magnificent. Live oak trees come straight from the hands of God.
So you can imagine the pain of many residents along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast when they returned in last days of August 2005. Hurricane Katrina had taken their homes, their businesses and their communities. And she took those trees, those magnificent gnarly old trees. Homes and businesses can be rebuilt. It takes centuries to grow a proper live oak tree.
As the clean-up began and chainsaws cut through mountains of debris, one chainsaw-wielding volunteer was creating something of beauty amidst all of the destruction.
His name was Dayton Scroggins. He took the remains of six old trees, drowned in the 25-foot surge of the Gulf’s salty waters, whose limbs were torn from their bodies by 200 mph winds, and made something beautiful.
It’s now the Katrina Sculpture Park, located in the median of Highway 90 that travels through Biloxi. There are now dozens of chainsaw sculptures found along the Mississippi coast, too many to count, but they all pay tribute to the beauty of life in the Gulf. Pelicans and dolphins, sea horses and sea turtles, and lots of fish, big and small.
“It was the first thing that gave me hope, that life here would be beautiful again,” says Katherine Blessing, whose home just a few blocks away was severely damaged. “It still gives me so much peace and reassurance today.”