The Peace Tree – Episode 1

Healing comes in many forms and shapes, including trees. This column today is about several special trees, and the choices offered to us human in how we treat these fellow living beings who share space with us on planet Earth.

The first I want to talk about is a small liberty elm donated to the New Hampshire Peace conference held at Keene State College several years ago. We used this young sapling in our opening ceremony – lining up and one by one pouring water upon it as we spoke our intentions for peace and good-will.

This elm was then donated to the City of Keene. Since it was not the best time of year to plant it, I was lucky enough to bring the elm sapling to my house. For almost a year we carefully tended that sapling, even putting aluminum foil around its base when red ants seemed to be attacking her.

And then a home was found for the peace tree, one corner of the recently designated North St. Park. Parks and Recreation planted it carefully, kindly crafting a marker – taller than the tree – with its identification number. We held a ceremony for the opening of the park and the planting of the tree. Various City officials came, including the Mayor.

I would often stop by on my neighborhood walks to check on the tree and make sure it was okay. Scott, who runs the nearby market, also felt a special connection to this liberty elm, as did others community members as well, perhaps.

Thus when Beliza, an Ecuadorian exchange who is indigenous, shared with me the story of her tree, I felt I could really understand. Beliza explained that in her village, when every child reached the age of 5, they are given a tree to take care of. This tree became their responsibility, and their well-being is considered to be connected with their special tree.
Beliza told me that one of the hardest things about leaving her village was being so far from her tree. She said, “You may not believe this but one time I was feeling very bad in Quito, I did not know why, and when I returned to my village I discovered that my tree was sick, and I had to take care of it and make it well again.”

Two weeks ago I was uncharacteristically out of sorts – mad at the world, feeling the pain of unknown origins that reside beyond me full force. I had no clue why I was so out of kilter until my husband told me, gently and kindly, that someone had pulled the peace tree down.

Some detective work uncovered that the liberty tree had been mowed down. I found pieces of its shredded branches and trunk scattered around its once upon a time home. Whether by “mechanical mistake” or “human carelessness,” the beautiful peace tree that so many of us had wished upon and were inspired by was turned into splinters in a short second or two by large steel blades spinning via gasoline powered fires. (Note: They (i.e. city officials) say they will plant another tree – bigger and better.)

In our community now, others are saddened because trees special to them – without their consultation – are ostensibly to be cut down due to regulations in a government grant for runway expansion. Glad to know that there are others who feel attached to their trees, even in the harsh society we live in where clearly marked trees get mowed over unnecessarily and airport runways take precedence over tree preservation agreements.

And I wonder if we will ever move towards the kind of community that Beliza grew up in – where each one of us has our own special tree to tend and care for – a tree that we are connected with and whose existence is intertwined with our own. A place where a tree is considered sacred and wise, and is treated with respect and dignity. considered sacred and wise, and is treated with respect and dignity.

Published in the Monadnock Shopper, May 2014

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