Enter the dragon: Neighbors care for tree that watches over Highway 45

 

This charred bois d’arc tree was decorated as a dragon in 2001 and has since become a local landmark.

This charred bois d’arc tree was decorated as a dragon in 2001 and has since become a local landmark. Photo by: Seth Putnam/Dispatch Staff

 

 

 

Seth Putnam

 

 

LOWNDES COUNTY -- Everyone asks Margaret and Jacky Triplett about the dragon. In 2001, they were driving down the dusty gravel road to Schaffers Chapel, the little country church they attend, when Margaret looked out the window and spied a curved, charred bois d''arc tree in the grass at the bottom of a steep embankment. She had an idea. 

 

She asked the owners of the land, near the intersection of Highway 45 South and Schaffers Chapel Road in Lowndes County, if she could decorate the tree. Johnny Gerhart, who owns the land with his mother, Fannie, remembered the conversation. 

 

"I burned a brush pile around it, and the tree was left over, and Margaret said, ''That''s a dragon!''" said Gerhart, a kindly man with a handlebar mustache. 

 

"It looks kind of like a gooseneck, and it just reminded me of a dragon or a swamp monster," Margaret Triplett said. "I asked Johnny, ''Do you mind if in our spare time we dress it up a little bit?''" 

 

After securing the Gerharts'' permission, Margaret and Jacky, her husband, cut a section of a tire and painted it to resemble scales. They nailed it to the back of the soon-to-be monster and then focused on the eyes, which Jacky made out of tennis balls. After a little tweaking, what was once a burnt tree became a dragon with a life of its own. 

 

It has also become a local attraction for children at the Tripletts'' church. 

 

"They ask 10,000 questions about the dragon," Jacky Triplett said. "Some people say it''s one of the seven wonders of Lowndes County." 

 

The Tripletts have rewarded the questions with stories. One year, Jacky Triplett built a nest for the creature, which they also call the "Motley Slough Monster" after the nearby swamp. He spray-painted hard-hats to look like eggs. 

 

"You might pass by any time and see her dressed for the occasion," Margaret Triplett said. 

 

After a heavy rain, the eggs were washed away and haven''t been seen since. 

 

"The tale is that the monster is waiting for the return of her young," Margaret Triplett said. 

 

Jacky Triplett said people who fish off of the iron bridge near the tree have reported that they''ve heard the cries of the monster in the night. It''s a case where imagination has added some zest to the community. 

 

"It''s just a little local thing," said Rufus Beason, one of the Tripletts'' neighbors. "Margaret is really artistic, so she took it upon herself to keep it up. They just do a lot for the community." 

 

In recent weeks, the conversation around the tree experienced a spike in action. Many community members were fearful that road construction on Highway 45 South was going to take out the beloved landmark.  

 

However, a surveyor with the road crew said the tree is well off the right-of-way and isn''t in any danger of being removed. 

 

"That bois d''arc will be there for a long time," Jacky Triplett said. "If it had been any other kind of wood, then it probably wouldn''t have lasted." 

 

Although the tree might be around for a while, the amount of people who pass by will dwindle. When the road widening does finish, there will be a new route to Schaffers Chapel and little reason to make the trek across the treacherous bridge. If that''s the case, it will surely be missed. 

 

"It''s more or less become a landmark," said Fannie Gerhart, Johnny''s mother. 

 

Regardless of the Dragon''s future, Margaret Triplett thinks the tree''s past has made it more than just a charred piece of wood: "I believe it brings a touch of whimsy to our community."

 

 

 

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