Galveston, Oh Galveston

The Community Chronicle, April 2022

Galveston Oh Galveston

By Jeffree Wyn Itrich

I was 15 years old when this iconic song by Glen Campbell was released. It hit me hard, seeping into my heart even though at the time I’d never heard of Galveston. While my friends were listening to the Beatles and Cream and Jefferson Airplane, I was stuck on a country boy from Arkansas. Glen Campbell’s melodious voice spoke to my core. Mama too.  Though both Mama and Campbell are long passed, every time I hear one of his songs, it takes me back to sweeter times and makes me think of my Mama. 

None of his other songs have ever made me want to visit a place. It was specifically this song that made me want to visit Galveston. The beaches, the sea air, the waves crashing on the shore. Call it a bucket list kind of thing. Two weeks ago, I finally got to Galveston. My husband and I spent four days and nights in the historic district. Probably the most fascinating part of our visit was learning about the town’s history. Yes, we knew about the hurricane of 1900. It was that historic event and another hurricane in the more recent past that mesmerized me. Every day we ventured out to a different part of town and learned something new. Taking both a ghost tour and a Segway tour provided oodles of stories and details I don’t think we would have learned about otherwise. For example: don’t visit the Walmart toy department in the late evening, Google it if you’re curious. 

Before we left home I researched all the not-to-be-missed places. One “must-do” was the Tree Sculptures, each a stand-alone, work of art. When Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in September 2008, Ike flooded most of the island with a massive tidal surge. Between the powerful winds and waves, many of the island’s oak trees were uprooted. Although that was bad enough, ultimately, it was the salty waters that spelled the end of the beautiful trees that canopied the island. Approximately 40,000 trees died, many of them 100-year-old live oaks planted after the deadly hurricane of 1900. To the heartbreak of Galveston’s residents, more than 35,000 dead trees were cut down after Ike. Then something astonishing happened. A few months later, a citizen tree committee formed, which ultimately led to sculpture artists whipping out their chainsaws and turning destruction into beauty. The tree sculptures, carved from stumps still deep-rooted in the ground, have become a playful, quirky, yet respectful way to pay homage to the past. 

We had to go see these trees. Initially, we were going to follow a list I’d downloaded of all the locations. We quickly realized that we were going to walk a good 10 miles or more to see most of them. Then we heard about a Segway tour where we could ride around with a guide. That seemed like a great idea. Only thing was, neither of us had ever ridden a Segway before. We decided to go for it. Turned out that none of the other people taking the tour had either. After watching a safety video, and undergoing a few minutes of training on how to properly start, slow, stop, and turn the Segway, we were off. Once I got the hang of proper maneuvering and speed control, I felt much like a kid the day my parents took the training wheels off my bike and I went solo for the first time. It was really really really fun. 

Once everyone was comfortable with riding the Segways we headed out for the tree sculptures. They were everywhere.  In no time at all, I was hooked on these whimsical pieces of art. I couldn’t get enough of them. Each was full of detail and creativity, oozing with imagination. Two hours later, a bit tired but exhilarated, I realized that they’re more than sculptures, they’re an inspiration of how art can overcome tragedy and bring back beauty in the face of devastation.