Mark Ballard

BALLARD: Stay rooted against worry

By MARK BALLARD - Special to The Telegraph

One of my favorite spots to recharge, solve problems and become one with nature is the Avenue of the Oaks on St. Simons Island. Many years ago, I became best friends with those trees. It was love at first sight. Every time I vacation on the island, I have to stop by to gaze at them. For me, they are therapy.

Last weekend while riding my bike around St. Simons, I made the turn to see them. Something magical happens from the moment you are off the main road. A quietness and gentle breeze comforts you, inviting you into the their magnificent presence. A sanctuary of nature, these massive oaks are alive with energy and delight. I parked my bike, got off and took a deep breath under their shade.

This oak-lined avenue originally was the impressive entrance to Retreat Plantation, a prosperous cotton plantation. In 1826, Anna Page King had these oaks planted side by side forming double rows leading to the ocean. As I stood under the oaks she planted, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time.

I could almost hear the sounds of braying horses as their hoofs stirred up a dirt storm on their way down this long and shady path pulling either a buggy or plow behind them. In my mind, I envisioned all the people working to maintain such a thriving plantation. Back then it was a very different time and place. I surveyed the current surroundings. The sounds of a plantation are long gone but the strong, tall and mighty oaks remain.

I imagine these oaks have faced many storms. This is evidenced by the way their trunks and limbs have gnarled over time. Being twisted by the battles they faced year after year has left them marred but still standing strong against the power of the sea. I think this is why I love them so much. They offer hope during times that seem hopeless.

The sunlight flickered down through their leaves and branches leaving patterns of light and dark on the ground and grass under them. Like natural mosaics made by the sun, I watched as the slightest of breezes altered their shapes. One minute turned into many, and before I knew it I was in an almost meditative trance. Just by standing in the presence of these fine specimens of nature, I was offered strength.

Gray Spanish moss hung like tangled hair from many of their branches. Back and forth it swayed as the ocean wind attempted to untangle it. Looking straight down the middle of the rows of the almost 200-year-old oaks, peace was waiting at the end. I gravitated toward it because I certainly needed some that day.

Just like the trees, storms are sometimes sent our way. Problems mount and troubles blow in like unexpected tropical weather systems. Worry consumes us and our days become bleak as we battle our situations. Many times we think the storms will never end and it is a struggle to not give up. But when I’m standing among the trees, they are living examples of survival.

My family and I have certainly battled several major storms in our lives. The last few years have really tested us. But we are not alone. Everywhere I turn I hear of people struggling with their own issues. Some are bigger than others, but pain and worry can’t be measured. It is different for everyone.

I’m a worrier by nature and, on this particular day, my mind was filled with doubt and uncertainty. Problems were erratically bouncing around in my head like a bunch of rubber balls. My mind didn’t know which one to grab first so I decided to shift my focus to the breathtaking beauty of the oak trees.

At times when we are at our lowest, we need to be grateful for all the blessings we have. Problems are selfish and hate it when we count our blessings. Worry wants all of our attention and when it doesn’t get it, it backs away and diminishes in size. I have to remind myself of this fact constantly.

Standing under those huge oak trees always makes me feel so small. That’s the main reason I wanted to spend a little time with them. They have a way of helping me put my problems into perspective and my worries on the back burner. If anything is an example of strength, endurance and survival, it is those trees. Pedaling away, I felt like I could conquer anything. After all, thinking you can is the first step to doing it.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 757-6877; email to; follow him at or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.