Among the most devastating losses to the Mississippi coast in Katrina were the 200-year-old live oaks along the beach highway. Tall, stately, sometimes large enough for a deck high in the tree, sometimes leaning a bit from high winds, but always huge and magnificent. Those trees spoke to the strength and endurance of creation through many a stormy wind. Katrina, though, was tougher than most and uprooted many trees and tore the heart and soul out of many others. There they lay, dead on the ground. Or there they stood, naked and forlorn. The vacant spaces where some had stood and the dead trees standing in other locations crushed our already-aching heart.
Then Grace happened. Sculptor Marlin Miller from Fort Lauderdale, FL spent a year resurrecting those many of those trees along 40-mile stretch of the beach highway, Highway 90, from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis. With the touch of this master’s chainsaw, one tree became three dolphins, another became a flying eagle, others became herons and seagulls and pelicans. You see, Marlin Miller could see in those dead trees something beautiful beyond Katrina. Where the assessor had seen only death and marked the tree with a circle with an X in it, Miller saw life and beauty and hope.
Miller donated his time for this project of hope. Resurrection was his calling. Chainsaws were his tools, along with small cranes and face and leg guards. He wore masks for breathing; the sawdust made an extra skin on his arms; and he worked out of love. He incarnated Grace.
As the years wore on, Miller’s sculptures became a tourist attraction, drawing folks to the Mississippi coast to view these symbols of hope.
Then one day another resurrection happened for some of the trees. From the sculptures grew new leaves, then branches, then more leaves, more branches. Even a tree marked dead, then chainsawed into a work of art, was resilient enough to live again. The resilience of nature was one of our greatest inspirations, and this was the ultimate. Grace indeed.
Thank you, Marlin Miller. If you hadn’t sculpted those trees, they would be gone. Thank you for your art and the renewal of hope you brought.
Miller’s response to all the gratitude he has received: “It made me better, my family better,” he said, but ultimately he said it’s not about him — or Katrina. “It’s really is about the people of South Mississippi.” (Biloxi Sun Herald, March 8, 2015)
If you would like to see Marlin Miller’s work: