Beau Chene

Prairie Basse begins just east of the Grand Coteau and the Coteau Ridge in central St. Landry Parish and extends eastward toward Arnaudville, Louisiana.   A remarkable landmark along the highway that winds through the prairie is the cheniere, or Live Oak grove, that stands in front of Beau Chene High School.  I wish I knew the history of the grove.  I imagine the school grounds was a home/farm place once upon a time, and these three or four sprawling Live Oaks are the remnant of that homestead setting.   All I know now is that these magnificent trees, the one in the photo the most spectacular in the grove, are some of the finest examples of Gulf Coast/Deep South Live Oak “architecture” that I’ve ever seen.

When I see these trees, I remember that poem Walt Whitman wrote after a visit to Louisiana during the Civil War: “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak growing.”  Whitman’s Live Oak was “uttering joyous leaves of friendship,” which suggests to me Whitman’s visit occurred during spring when the Live Oak sheds the browning leaves in favor of new spring growth.  In the February/March breezes, those shedding leaves noisily rain from the trees, driven by the wind.  As a Louisianian who has heard these trees “utter joyous leaves,” I have a rich appreciation for the imagery suggested in Whitman’s verse.

One linguistic note about “beau chene.”  The French word for Oak Tree (chene) is pronounced “shenn,” not “shain.”  I hear non-Francophones all over South Louisiana butcher that word as “shain,” but that’s just not right.  Here’s to linguistic propriety, OK?