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Great White Oak

Students, artists, musicians, historians and vaulters celebrate Travilah Oak’s birthday.

Imposing in its vast expanse, the giant white oak at the Travilah and Glen crossroads witnessed another annual neighborhood celebration of its 250-plus-year presence. What moments this tree must have experienced as it weathered seasons and held sway, as it grew, over farms that once flourished, then faded to neighborhoods, then returned to farmland again. If it could show us its timeline, how much we as neighbors could understand about our surrounding countryside.

It is fitting then that those who care were there. Elie Cain and her husband Ted sold raffle tickets to support the Canal Boat Project for the Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern. Also paying tribute to the oak were Sandy Larson, a tireless champion of everything dear to local history, and Guy and Dana Semmes, coordinators of the Travilah Oak Association who know that history as well as anyone. Del. Jean Cryor stopped by and Anne Martinez, artist and community activist, was there sans her painted Potomac Pony, who cantered way out White’s Ferry Road and wouldn’t come back. In Potomac Pony’s place, Martinez displayed her depiction of the representation of the seasons that are painted on Potomac Pony’s sleek fiberglass hide, and on the table next to it, she encouraged children to help illustrate a scrolled historical poem "by" the Travilah oak tree. When it is complete, it will be shown each year at the festival.

According to Guy Semmes, the tree must have been planted by hand because of the unfettered growth of its limbs. Wild white oaks that take root together rise tall and thin in competition for the sun. Semmes, who speaks frequently to arborists about the tree, experienced what he once was told: that such a canopy of leaves gives off volumes of oxygen. His naps in its shade became deep sound sleeps in the potent air.

Pony rides, scarecrow construction, tattooing and a pumpkin painting contest were just some of the activities for families stopping by.

Michelle Hodgers, 13, of Bethesda Middle School and Alissa Feudo, 13, of Fairfax Station, Va., like to ride above horses as well as on them. They gave a demonstration of vaulting on — or is it off? — horseback. Skilled in the manner of gymnasts, they performed handstands and somersaults on the horses as they were led around the ring. All compete at various levels.

The appearance of another type of horse, a white pachyderm-sized beauty, caught the rays of brilliant sun and the attention of everyone. Children who walked up to pet Tucker’s nose could barely reach him. He had to lower his head. Up in the clouds atop this 2000-pound Percheron gelding, reaching 18 hands high, sat a diminished Officer Nancy Jones. The Park Police have several draft horses of this size now for crowd control, she said. No question of crowd-parting ability when Tucker appears.

In the background of activities, the Martin Family Band performed its quaint, toe-tapping music, while its youngest generation, Elora Paul, 2, danced in time to the beat.

Round out the afternoon with refreshments on a table laden with food and the event concluded another successful celebration ’round the Travilah Oak as it makes ready to shed its leaves for another season.