© 2008 Karen Van Fossan
Tree-hugger is one of those terms I wear proudly, like a Girl Scout badge. There's worse things to hug in this world, I'm pretty sure. And (no offense to all the huggable trees out there) there's one tree I especially love to hug. I gaze on my friend, this 60-year-old elm tree, from my window every day.
I turn to this tree when I get the news...
Polar bears may be extinct by this summer.
Wolves being shot to death in Idaho and Wyoming.
Hundreds of bison needlessly slaughtered in Yellowstone National Park.
Even when I cannot bear to read this news, I feel it. I can tell my world is suffering from a distinct loss of the wild. I know I don't hear bison thundering on the plains, or listen to the wolves calling to the moon, or live in a stable climate that can nourish cold-weather species for very long. So, because I need to, I gaze on my tree each day.
This living, nurturing, mama tree reminds me there is wildness. The squirrels climb, with braiding tracks, up and down her trunk. Birds of many kinds, every shade of prairie color, stop here for a moment. This tree is my place of peace, my wild refuge.
But then, just before Earth Day, I see two City officials circling my tree, with an ominous piece paper in their hands. In my best June Cleaver impression, I bustle out the door and ask, Can I help you?
My tree will be chopped down, they say. Something to do with water pipes. That's all I understand. My tree will die this summer. There's nothing they can do; they seem sorry.
I concoct schemes:
1) Become a full-time tree sitter.
2) Chain myself to the tree.
3) Invite my dad to Bismarck and chain him to the tree.
Soon I become...
2) More depressed.
3) Even more depressed.
Then, weeping under my tree one night, I ask myself these questions...
1) What if there's a way to save my tree?
2) What can I do in my lifetime?
3) What if City officials love trees too?
I call all kinds of people and make some curious additions to my vocabulary:
1) Curb stop.
2) Water valve.
3) Water main.
4) Service line.
5) Service connection.
6) Directional drill.
Many times, Kris and I talk to...
1) The city.
4) The work crew from Geo E Haggart, Inc.
5) Friends and family (for good measure).
How all of the above decide to help us, I don't know. But on Thursday, July 17, 2008,
our water line is moved, clear around the tree.
At 4:30, I ask, Are you done already? Yes, they say, they're done. One crew member tells me, We didn't tear up the concrete. He gestures toward the elm. And we saved the tree.
Tree-huggers, every one.