The stump was stuck. In the middle of a ditch. Turned over, in the middle of nowhere.
There it waited as a constant reminder of the destructive force that had turned Baldwin County upside down when Hurricane Sally slowly scraped across the landscape.
When Lloyd Wayne Jones drove by it, his imagination was struck.
Sure, it was a little ugly, for lack of a better term. But it was also a beautiful reminder that, with a little effort, and a lot of love, an ugly situation can be made better.
So Jones, who said he wasn’t necessarily an artist, became one. After two hours a day, for five days with paint in hand, he transformed what was just another painful reminder into an inspirational work of art.
It became known as the Heart Tree, the first of a community project that would shift the focus of those stumps from painful reminders to expressions of love.
“It’s been a year for us all,” Jones said. “I don’t think one person can say they haven’t had to re-evaluate, readdress and reconsider things in their lives. In our area much of that came after Sally.”
After the repeated blows of 2020, Jones said much like those trees he was feeling down after the storm. Jones, who lives in Magnolia Springs, works in the music industry. When Covid-19 struck, his was the first industry to fall.
After a tough year, the beauty of that stump was an unexpected moment of bliss.
“Nothing is really built to last except for love,” he said. “For those looking for hope who are maybe in a hopeless place, they can feel inspired by that work of art.”
The simple painting became a conversation piece. Then, as Jones hoped, it motivated.
Families began painting their stumps as well. Ditches full of debris were transformed into works of art.
“People really began feeling inspired and pulled in their creative juices to make their community a better place,” he said.
Many of the stumps that have been painted have since been removed by the rumbling black debris trucks that have crisscrossed the county. Others remain. And some still sit patiently, waiting for an artist. The stumps may sit a week or a year. Either way it, Jones said, they helped love to endure.
“The strongest oak was once a small acorn and eventually it’s going to fall on its own. Like that, this is one of those fleeting moments. If you blink you might miss it. But for that moment in time I’m happy to be able to give somebody hope in these trying times,” Jones said.