It happened this way.... I was living in the City in a neighbourhood with lots of young families. Across the street, a young couple, (they were young then), were raising three fine young children. We had all moved into this neighbourhood when it was a new development. We all were planting our first lawns at the same time, and all the things that go on in a new area. Since we all were "newcomers" at the same time, a real community bond was established. But, as is often the case, especially in a low-income neighbourhood, families started to move on and new people arrived. These newcomers usually did not connect to this community in the same way. Perhaps it was the fact that I and my neighbours across the street soon were "old-time residents" that a great bond of friendship grew between us. As their children grew, they frequently visited. Perhaps I had become like another grandfather to them. An indication of the respect and trust that had developed became apparent to me when I was asked to become the legal guardian of the three children if anything happened to their parents.

During these years I also had a strong friendship with a couple living in Lethbridge Alberta. We corresponded and several times a year were able to visit. This grand gentleman and his wife seemed to become like another set of parents to me! I was still about a decade from my retirement eligibility, but the prospect of taking retirement in the City was not a happy consideration. During one summer I was able to find the original 40 acres of what became Friendly Forest. It was a decent distance from the City, and I could undertake to build on the land myself at a rate I could afford.

The first year of my purchase saw me all excited with plans for the place... house designs I created to fit that exact spot overlooking the pond, etc. I guess my excitement was pretty obvious to my friends. My friends in Lethbridge kept referring to my place as "that ranch of yours". I bristled at that expression, and insisted that it was NOT a "ranch", it was a piece of forest land with a beautiful pond... and I had absolutely no intentions of cutting the trees to raise cattle! It was also at that time that the mother of the three children quietly told me that the children were sad because of my land purchase. To them this meant that I would be moving away and out of their lives, with an end to our visiting and friendship. In my excitement about this forest land, I had not even considered this negative effect.

That year, as a Christmas gift, I created formal "adoption" certificates, entitling each child to " adopt" any tree on the land as their very own, with full visitation rights and a continued promise of my friendship for them. The certificates were even bordered with gold designs and printed on special paper. These certificates were well received, and required several overnight visits to the forest (with basic living quarters in what is now the workshop portion of my garage), and a thorough investigation of the area to find just the right tree that deserved to be adopted by each child. Eventually the favoured trees were identified and adorned with a plaque identifying it as his/her special tree. Other special friends were also given "adoption" rights in the forest. Each person undertook the search process in their own special way, and selected a particular tree for unique reasons. One friend receiving an adoption certificate was a member of an order of Catholic Nuns.

While it would not be proper for a nun to visit a gentleman friend without proper companionship, "Sister Jo" arranged for me to invite all of her co-workers to the forest for a Saturday afternoon visit and meal. When they arrived, Sister Jo asked for a private space to change into apparel appropriate to walking though the forest. Earlier she had decided that she wanted a Birch tree. I had mentally selected several prime options, some of them really beautiful clumps of trees, to which I directed her attention. No, although attractive, each of my selections was not what she sought. We walked a long way, and at one point came back near the site of my future house construction. It was near the pond, and a small 48 inch birch sapling with its still-brown bark caught her eye. " I want this one." She declared. I was not pleased, and pointed out to her that if the pond water rose significantly, it might be drowned out, or if there was a return of the beaver, it might be an early lunch for them. "No, that is the one I want to adopt!." I knew better than to argue with this lady, and reluctantly produced the name plate and tied it to the tiny tree. She recited a special blessing prayer she had written, and then, with a sly grin on her face, said, " I bet you wonder why I wanted this tree and not one of the others you pointed out. Well, all my life I have been part of a community. First I was part of my family in the Northwest Territories, and then when still quite young, I joined this Congregation. Those were great experiences for me, but I always wondered what it would be like to have lived on my own. That is why I want this single tree, and not one that is part of a clump!" And so it was.

This friend passed away a few short years later, but before that passing, she would phone and inquire about the health and size of her tree. If I did not know how tall it was, I was instructed to go out, measure it, and report back to her. She also passed on to me several poems she had written about her birch tree. When she fell ill to a stroke, I took a small piece of bark from her tree, and attached it to a short poem I wrote to her about our friendship.

My young friends, on subsequent visits, would first go to say hello to their own tree. At one time, the youngest, unable to come out for a while, wrote a letter I was to place, unopened, on the branches of her tree!

Back to my friends in Lethbridge.... determined to replace their "ranch" references, I decided to find a suitable name for this forest. Very soon, "Friendly Forest" came to mind. When I walk through the forest, I know where each adopted tree grows. Each reminds me of the friendship that it represents, and I have the sense of walking in the middle of a community of supportive friends. Over the years, a number of these persons have died, and their tree has taken on the added significance of being a kind of "living memorial" to that person. Also, very soon after determining on the name, Friendly Forest, the byline : "Where friends have trees, and trees have friends." came into existence.

Sister Jo's tree summer of 2000 ...no longer a small sapling

 

   

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