Celebrating a Century of Life

A group organized by Amy “Moonlady” Martin gathered Saturday to pay tribute to a 100-year-old tree at White Rock Lake. — Courtesy Photo

Community Contribution by Amy “Moonlady” Martin

For more than 100 years they stood, four great American elms behind the Bath House Cultural Center. The felling of two and the impending death of a third moved people deeply. Considering Earth Rhythms’ long history at the Bath House and the embrace of tree imagery in our logos, we felt something had to be done, culminating in Goodbye to the Bath House Tree held this Saturday.

Planted as saplings on a dairy farm overlooking White Rock Creek, they later witnessed the creation of White Rock Lake, providing shade for swimmers when the Bath House was actually a bathhouse. Many bathing suits have dried from their limbs, much laughter shared in their shade.

After the lake was closed to swimming, they continued to host picnics beneath their boughs, many children climbed their branches. Once too big to climb, their massive trunks could be seen as a landmarks in countless photos at the lake and backdrops for many Earth Rhythms’ events: FlowFest, Moonlady Nights, Summer SolstiCelebrations, fall equinoxes, and full moons.

With no consultation from the Bath House or the neighborhood, one day last April the Dallas Park and Recreation Department cut down two of the trees. Perhaps the diseased limbs were a public hazard, but pruning was possible and weakened trees can be brought back to health through fertilizer and soil supplements.

Rather than seeing these giants as significant historical trees, the duo were cut down as if they were weeds. Neighborhood resident Roger Kallenberg discovered the scene in time and was able to notify the White Rock Weekly and save some of one tree for future Bath House art. So when the city came for a third tree, Kallenberg once again sounded the alarm, negotiating a temporary truce, allowing for a dignified end.

The long goodbye

Yes, trees come to the natural end of their life spans every day. But once past a century in age, a tree becomes more than a plant. It becomes history, belonging to us all. Such an honorable presence deserves an honorable end.

Over the past week, the tree stood as if in hospice as people visited, recalling moments and memories. Among the stories I heard was a woman who climbed it as a child, free from peer and parent pressure, finding her authentic self in the process. Over and again the sentiment was shared: “I hope no one tosses me away when I’m old and weak after a lifetime of giving.” Trees and humans are entwined.

Now that the end of its long life is nigh, we gathered at its side in the last moments, lending strength, sharing comfort with the tree and each other. Cornell Kinderknecht performed a tune on a teak and mahogany ocarina, with Cynthia Stuart on wooden drum. Jonathon Hochberg of Trees for Humanity shared his passion for involving children in tree stewardship. Johnny Wolf recalled his childhood beneath the trees. Alana Gladden shared saplings hand dug from her Druidic oak.

From loss comes life. Kurt Kretsinger, president of the White Rock Lake Museum, spoke of an ordinance now in motion — and championed by the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition — to identify and protect significant trees. Earth Rhythms is now planning a Trees for Life sapling planting event every March as a way to continue the trees’ spirit and bring attention to area arbor groups.

The clear sentiment from the attendees as that with proactive care these trees did not have to end this way. The simple basics of urban forestry such as fertilizer, soil supplements, and water during droughts would have extended their lives. Certainly plenty of landscape and tree businesses would happily care for special trees as these, and the nearby live oaks as well, at no cost for a little signage, rather than simply waiting for trees to die.

Picking up trash at parks is a city responsibility. Yet volunteers from For the Love of the Lake monthly spread out and clean up litter at White Rock Lake. Why can’t such a partnership for care of special trees be made between tree groups and the Dallas park department. Trees at Lee Park and the lake’s Filter Building appear to have adjunct care. Why not the Bath House?

Perhaps among you is someone who wants to leave a legacy. Like Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” this elm’s limbs and trunk could continue to give. An art lover working through the Bath House could coordinate saving the tree parts and milling it into manageable pieces. These could be transformed into art for the Bath House or sold at their seasonal art marts. La Reunion art conservancy did a fabulous job of this for their land. The stump could be fashioned into beauty, just as Julia Schloss did at FlowFest. Earth Rhythms is here to help, but someone beside me will need to be the leader here.

Earth Rhythms is entwined with trees. Our logo features a tree leaf; the logo of our signature event Winter SolstiCelebration is a tree in winter. People who attend Earth Rhythms events resonate metaphor of tree, the way is equal below ground as above, reminding us of how little we know, how much unseen. Trees are the “as above, so below” of the magi, a lesson in balance, yin-yang in a plant. The diversity of leaves above and the diversity of roots below come together in unity, community, of trunk. And so can we.

Amy Martin runs Earth Rhythms.

Bath House tree — Courtesy Photo

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