When I was ten years old and attending an elementary school called Mountainview School, my mother decided to have a little chat with my school director about the lack of trees on the school property. She argued that although the view of the mountain was lovely, the boring grassy lawn was not. The director and her chatted back and forth about the value trees could bring to the elementary school; trees could create shade for children, trees could bring more life to the surroundings, and trees certainly were more beautiful than blades of grass. There was only one problem: the school had a limited budget and unfortunately, trees were not part of that budget. Thinking the conversation was over, the director dismissed my mother and thought that would be the end of that topic.
Little did he know my mother.
The next day, I arrived at school and sat in my usual chair. All of a sudden, one of the boys in my class started laughing and pointing to something outside on the front lawn. All the children rushed to see what the fuss was about. To my great embarrassment, there was my mother with her long black coat and red tuque with a shovel and rain boots, digging up holes on the school front lawn. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my youth.
For two days, with the permission of the director, my mother dug up holes all around my elementary school and inserted various saplings. She did all this alone without the help of anyone, least of all myself, who was horrified that my mother was acting like a raging hippy. Everyone in my class made fun of the crazy red hat lady with her shovel. By the end of the two days, there were about twenty little trees scattered across the front and side of my school, all supported by wooden stakes.
As I walked home on the last tree planting day, I noticed a few boys laughing and pulling out a sapling. Something inside of me came alive and growled. I stopped and turned around and gave the kids a very cold stare, the one my mother was famous for in our parts. A little unsettled, the boys ran off, leaving the baby tree uprooted on the dry grass. Calmly, I walked over to where the poor sapling lay, took it in both hands, and like my mother had shown me multiple times in our garden, I re-planted it. I straightened up and brushed the dirt off my pants, and with a dignified air, walked back home to where my hippy mother was waiting for me.
Today, 25 years later, Mountainview School is surrounded by strong oak and maple trees. They offer shade to the children and homes for nesting birds. I’m certain that the new school director doesn’t know the story of how one woman didn’t let budgets deter her determination to make this world a better one through the simple gesture of planting saplings. Also, the children probably don’t know that I was at first humiliated by my hippy mother’s tree planting scene but then very proud that she took matters into her own hands. Every time I drive by those trees, I smile and thank my mother for having been an environmental visionary despite budget restrictions. I hope others are doing the same.
(As published in InnerSelf Magazine April 2017)