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LOVING ATTENTION MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO SAVE TREATY OAK

SHARE LOVING ATTENTION MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO SAVE TREATY OAK

Why would anyone "murder" a tree? In Austin, Texas, potentially lethal doses of poison were poured around the city's 400-year-old Treaty Oak. A drifter was arrested for the unique crime.

The venerated tree, legendary site of an Indian treaty-signing, is on life-support systems. Fresh earth has replaced the contaminated soil, a neutralizing agent has been injected into the roots, burlap bandages protect leafless limbs, and sprinklers cool the surface with spring water trucked in from west Texas. A large screen shields out the hot sun."If we can nurse it through this summer, we have some hope of saving it," says John Giedraitis, the city forester, who proposed to his wife under the tree's 100-foot-wide canopy.

"It's a race between the poison and the tree," he says. "Even if the tree wins, it will never be the magnificent specimen it was." Its fate may not be known until next spring.

Meanwhile, the oak has been showered with well-wishes from as far away as Tokyo. Someone even brought it cans of chicken soup. "It's the most famous tree in the world right now," Giedraitis says. "It's become a symbol of the plight of man and his environment."

All that affection, he thinks, is really what's keeping the oak alive.