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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.