Posted tagged ‘Wampanoags’

On Loving Trees

June 6, 2012

June is beautiful, but cruel in southern Arizona. Here in Tucson we are sizzling in triple-digit temperatures already! In fact one can cook a meal on the dashboard of a car if parked for a few hours under the naked sky and exposed to the brutal intensity of the sun. Everybody seems to love trees here in June for their protective shade. Even those who complain about how messy trees are—with their shedding leaves or pods and drippings of birds housed in their branches—tolerate trees while waiting for the monsoon season to arrive.

The picture below looks like a perfect dream for June — beautiful trees and water! In fact it is a photo taken in June, but in distant Poland during one of my visits there. I grew up near that pond circled gracefully with weeping willows. One of them extended her trunk horizontally towards the pond and I could sit on it, dangling my feet above the water and enjoying my invisibility to others provided by the delicate and dense branches. I loved that tree and since then weeping willows have been one of my favorite trees.

Trees and water
Alicja Mann in Poland

When I moved to Tucson I fell in love with the native trees of Arizona almost immediately. In fact the desert environment taught me a lot about the hardship of a plant’s life. My respect and affection for the trees here has grown enormously. Southwest trees are very graceful and tough at the same time. How can one not love them?

Trees in southwestern US

The palo verde is the official tree of Arizona. That smart and strikingly green tree is able to put to work chlorophyll not only in its needle-like leaves but in the “skin” (delicate bark) of its trunk and branches. In spring the abundance of the yellow flowers of palo verdes also is impressive.

palo verde tree branches and blooms

Although I adore palo verde trees, my special affection goes to the mighty mesquite, most likely because I had invested a lot of time, effort, and emotion to save one of them here in Tucson. It was one of the oldest and most beautiful mesquites I ever met. It lived in an unfortunate spot near a sidewalk in the community where I lived for several years.

My tree

If that mesquite could have walked, I am sure it would have walked away from the people who felt threatened by its roots. It is true that roots can cause some problems with pavements and buried pipes, but such problems are solvable if there is a will to solve them.

I fought hard for that tree and even saved its life…for a while. During my absence, however, when I had to go to Poland to take care of my terminally ill mother, the people of that community decided to cut that beautiful mesquite, anyway.

That was a memorable summer for me—the summer of 2007. I lost my mom and I lost “my” tree!

So when I found a different place to live—a property on which stands our renovated home and where also stands my studio—one of the important activities was adding a variety of plants. I decided to plant a young mesquite tree in honor of the one that was killed in 2007.

It just so happened that our new neighbors loved trees, too, and Joe had a couple of baby mesquite trees—nurtured by him from tiny seedlings—available for planting. I got one for our yard and they got one for theirs. Here you can see Joe and Nancy visiting a bit ruffled young mesquite decorated with ribbon on the day of its planting. From that day we became “mesquite relatives” with our neighbors.

Two people and recently-planted mesquite tree

Time passed and the young mesquite grew considerably along with the other plants in our yard. The tree looked as if it were dancing, reminding me of Zorba the Greek from the old classic 1964 movie (starring Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates), and I named him Zorba the Tree. It had such a strong presence that the new patio had to be designed to embrace him and make him the focal point of our yard.

Zorba the mesquite tree

Today Zorba has been with us for three years. It had to be trimmed a lot in order to grow taller and stronger. It became a favorite visiting spot for quite a few birds, including a stubborn woodpecker that injured one of Zorba’s “arms”. Little Zorba became an adult tree. His branches stretch from the studio to the house—creating a charming living ramada.

Zorba, a mesquite tree

Soon Zorba will have to stay alone for a couple of months during our annual visit to Cape Cod. I like those trips and will see other trees through the car window while crossing the country—the trees of New Mexico or the Midwest—sometimes close and sometimes far away.

Passing by trees
Passing by trees
Seeing trees in any place makes me happy, but the real treat is to visit trees I have known for a long time like the ones in the “wild” yard of our Cape house. The house does not have an ocean view as some people imagine, but that does not matter. It feels good to sit on the elevated deck being surrounded with the wild greenery—in fact it feels almost like being on an ocean of green. I especially like the protective presence (against hurricanes) of the tall white pines. Yes, white pines are definitely my favorites there.

white pine deck and tree
I will be happy to see again the old and majestic grandma Ernestine—a white pine who witnessed my sons growing up around there. I like to see her family members scattered around the house. I feel these trees are my friends, almost a family.

grandmother and youth white pines

It might sound strange and even corny when I talk like that, but that does not matter. I learned these feeling towards nature partially from my father, but mostly from my Wampanoag friends on the Cape. Native Americans often refer to plants or animals as “people”—like “plant people”, for instance. I like that concept very much and have incorporated into my life style and philosophy. I see my favorite plants that way, and especially trees!

Trees live long among us, silently witnessing our happiness and our sorrows. Trees are strong and yet they are vulnerable the way people are.

They live in communities like the ones in my Cape Cod yard.

trees in community
Sometimes they live a lonely life, like the tree I met on the Kaibab Trail while hiking the Grand Canyon.

Tree alone on Kaibab trail at Grand_Canyon
They dream like the “dreaming tree” below… and this is a poetic stretch of my imagination, of course.

Dreaming tree
Trees can definitely get hurt badly by a fire — most likely a man made one.

Being burned
And I like to imagine that they cry like us …just with a different color of tears….

Crying yellow

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Text and photos copyright © 2012 by Alicja Mann.

Columbus Day Darkly

October 14, 2011

How did you celebrate Columbus Day last Monday?

Columbus Day has been observed by most states of this country since 1937 when Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 a federal holiday as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus.

Many Italian-Americans view Columbus Day as a day to celebrate their Italian heritage. Most of us, however, do not know how to celebrate that day, except enjoying a day off from work or going shopping. So on Monday I was wondering what was happening on Columbus Day besides special sales? Nothing or almost nothing, I discovered — nothing in Tucson, anyway, and most likely in the rest of Arizona. Sorry! Casa Grande held a 3-day event, the Arizona Soccer Tournament for the Columbus Cup.

Having had some issues about this holiday for some time, I decided to “observe it” by taking a long walk on Columbus Boulevard here in Tucson and thinking about Christopher Columbus. It was a nice and easy celebration — Columbus Boulevard is only a few steps away from our home and is a pleasant street for walking or jogging, especially the northern part of it that leads to the Rillito River.

Monday morning was sunny and warm and I truly enjoyed being reacquainted with the desert plants and houses along the boulevard. I had not walked it for a while, having been away from Tucson.

Columbus Boulevard, Tucson

Columbus Blvd in Tucson

McCormick Park, Tucson, Arizona

McCormick Park on Columbus Blvd

A charming spot along Columbus Blvd

Rillito River, Tucson, Arizona

Waterless Rillito River

My walk, in truth, was a nice procrastination from writing this post. I procrastinated the next day as well, since I found the issue of Columbus Day a difficult one to write about. Finally, I am writing today, on the “real” Columbus Day, October 12, so please bear with me!

Quite a few years ago I wrote (in one of my op-ed columns) about the dark side of Columbus Day but did not question the celebration of it. Today I do!

Five hundred nineteen years ago on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus and his sailors arrived in the Bahamas. When they stepped ashore, for the first time since the voyages of the Vikings, a small piece of the New World felt the presence of Europeans. That event changed the history of the world much more significantly than any other geographical exploration.

Why was there such a strong response in Europe to discovery of America? The author of “America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse”, German Arciniegas, addresses that question. “The fervor, the passion, the spontaneity that had been restrained for centuries broke their barriers and a new era was opened. Man began to declare his own rights, at the risk of anarchy. When one reflects with sufficient perspective on this deep, radical change, one finds the words that define this new course: Independence, Freedom.”

What was freedom and independence for newcomers became oppression, displacement, and loss of freedom for the indigenous people of this continent.

So why are we still celebrating the man who in truth was not a visionary about the existence of the New World, but stumbled upon it by mistake? At the time of his first voyage Columbus’ intention was not discovery of the New World but travel to India. Assuming that he had reached the “Indies,” Columbus named the native people of San Salvador “Indians” and since then “Indians” has become the name of the natives on both American continents.

Columbus’ attitude towards natives of the New World was less than admirable. It is not fair to judge that man of the 15th century by the standards of our thinking in the 21st century; still, it is impossible to like him while reading the well known excerpts from his logbook regarding the natives: “They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. They would make fine servants…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them to whatever we want.”

A quote from his second Voyage of 1495, when many Indians were taken as slaves and died on the way to Spain, is also telling, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

I have to admit that I was oblivious to the dark side of the New World discovery for quite a few years of my living in this country and while living in Poland. Writing a book with a Chief of the Wampanoags of Mashpee (an American Indian tribe on Cape Cod) — Son of Mashpee — opened my eyes widely. At that time I read a lot of history of the Wampanoags and other tribes of American Indians. While reading, one could only cry….

Columbus Day has been a controversial holiday for a long time. Some feel ashamed of it. Some feel angry about it. Some wonder what to do about it.

It is obvious that we cannot change history, but I think we can and should stop celebrating Columbus Day. It would be very appropriate, in my opinion, to keep the holiday, rename it and dedicate it to those who were present in the New World when “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. Let’s follow the example of South Dakota that already celebrates Native American Day in place of Columbus Day.

Stop Columbus Day

And what do you think about it?

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Photos and text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.


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