Return to Heartwood
A Search for the Heart of Live Oak Country
In Return to Heartwood – A Search for the Heart of Live Oak Country, author and photographer William 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 know the old oaks as sentient beings who are an essential part of the history, culture, and ecology of the Southern landscape. They are vital to what makes the South visually distinct and culturally rich. But he found the old oaks are disappearing faster than anyone realizes, from climate change, more powerful storms, depleted soil, and unchecked development.
This book is a journal of his forty-year journey through live oak country in search of these elders of the Southern landscape. It is part autobiography, part history, and part appeal to preserve the remaining old oaks before they and their stories are lost forever.
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 of Southern live oaks paired with 55 essays.
What began as a learning exercise, a long-term photographic study of a single subject, has grown into a calling, a four-decade-long pilgrimage that led the author deep into the heart of Louisiana’s live oak country to find and document the state’s oldest oaks, many growing before European settlement of this region.
In Return to Heartwood – A Search for the Heart of Live Oak Country, author and photographer William Guion shares his experiences in search of ancient and historic Southern live oak trees. In the process, he came to know the old oaks as sentient beings that are an essential part of the history, culture, and ecology of the Southern landscape—and the heart and soul of Southern life.
Through these haunting “oak portraits” and personal essays, you are transported deep into the heart of Louisiana’s misty and mysterious bayou country. Here you will wander into moss-draped corridors of ancient oak alleys, through fog-shrouded oak groves, and into dazzling mornings and ghostly twilights to commune with these iconic elder trees of the deep South.
“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. 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.”
– Ken Wells, Novelist, author of Swamped, Gumbo Life, and Meely LaBauve
William Guion has photographed the landscape and oak trees of the South for more than four decades. Through his camera’s lens, he explores the quiet presence, or spirit of place, revealed in the changing moods of light and shadow across the land. His black-and-white and hand-colored photographs of the oaks sensitively portray the essence of their character. He describes his images as “tree portraits,” each one revealing the evasive and individual personality of each tree, alley, or grove.