“Return to Heartwood” Documents the Loss and Decline of Louisiana’s Oldest Live Oak Trees
The Ellender Memorial Library will host a book signing in November for the launch of a local author’s new book, “Return to Heartwood, A Search for the Heart of Live Oak Country.”
William Guion, Louisiana author and photographer, will host the event from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15, near the display cases on the first floor. He will also be giving away a fine-art print to one book buyer.
In his newest book, Guion takes up camera and pen to document the stories and portraits of Louisiana’s oldest live oak trees before they are lost and forgotten. Over four decades, he came to understand that live oaks are an essential part of the history, culture and ecology of Louisiana and the Southern landscape. They are vital to what makes Louisiana visually distinct and culturally rich. But he also found that the oldest oaks are disappearing faster than anyone realizes, from climate change, more powerful storms, depleted soil, and unchecked development.
“I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree. Nor a book as beautifully rendered as Bill Guion’s ‘Return to Heartwood,’” said Ken Wells, author of “Swamped,” “Gumbo Life,” and “Meely LaBauve.” “In equal measure homage and elegy, Heartwood is both a stunning visual time capsule of the ancient live oaks that grace the south Louisiana landscape and a collection of essays that poetically capture why these majestic trees are indispensable to our culture and our imaginations.”
“Return to Heartwood” is a retrospective of Guion’s journey through the heart of live oak country in search of Louisiana’s oldest live oaks. It is part autobiography, part history, and part appeal to preserve the remaining old oaks before they and their stories are lost forever. His photographs and stories take you deep into moss-draped corridors of ancient oak alleys, through fog-shrouded oak groves, and into dazzling mornings and ghostly twilights to commune with these elder trees.
“Return to Heartwood” is a beautiful hard-cover book, 10 in. by 8 in. size, 120 pages in length, with 57 black-and-white photographs paired with 55 essays. It can make a wonderful holiday gift for friends and relatives. Copies are available through Louisiana’s independent book stores and through the book’s website, www.returntoheartwood.com.
Guion has photographed the landscape and oak trees of Louisiana for more than forty years. His black-and-white and hand-colored photographs of the oaks sensitively portray the essence of the oak’s character. He describes his images as “tree portraits,” each one revealing the evasive and individual personality of each tree, alley, or grove. Through his haunting “oak portraits” and personal essays, you are transported deep into the heart of Louisiana’s misty and mysterious bayou country.
In 2006, moved by the loss of many of Louisiana’s old oaks from hurricanes, Guion focused his efforts on locating and documenting the state’s historic oaks, many of them growing before European settlement of Louisiana, before they and the human stories connected with them are lost forever. In 2016, based on this work, he received a major grant from the Lafourche Parish Office of Tourism to create the Bayou Lafourche Historic Live Oak Tour. This is his fifth book Guion’s photographs are widely collected and are contained in a variety of corporate and private collections across the U.S. as well as the permanent collections of the Louisiana Folklife Museum and the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.