Memorial TreesReunion and Commencement is the season when memorial trees always come to my mind. Middlebury has over 85 class trees and memorial trees-a class tree may be planted by a class during a reunion, while a memorial tree is often dedicated to a professor, or a classmate that died while they were a student. People often come back and look at the trees, a living memorial to a memory, or to a person they love and remember. I bet I get 2-3 calls a year from someone looking for a special tree.
One I remember was right after a commencement ceremony several years ago. Someone walked up to the “chair general” asking where the tree planted by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was located. They were impressed when, after reaching me on the radio, I knew right where it was. Really, though, how often do you run into maples planted by the Dalai Lama? Of course I knew where it was. You can visit all the class and memorial trees in Google Earth.
All the memorial and class trees get a little extra love and care, as you can imagine. They’re on a 2 year inspection schedule, as opposed to 5 or so, and get more regualarly pruned and mulched. Planting a new one is a sad honor, and a little stressful. It’s something you don’t really want to mess up. Even simply picking the variety of tree is tough. It’s got to live a long, long time. Having the memorial tree for someone die is just immensely sad and un-imaginable, so I tend toward longer lived species, like oak or maple.
At my previous job at a garden center I had to help a couple I vaguely knew pick a memorial tree they wanted to plant for a young man who had died that had worked for them. I take them out to the large trees, and I steer them towards the Sugar maples. He veers away, makes a beeline right toward the Birches (a short-lived tree I wasn’t walking near on purpose), points to one, and says “That’s the one I want to plant”. His wife looks at him, jaw dropping, hauls back, and slugs him in the arm as hard as she can. He stares at her in disbeilief (she’s very pregnant at the time), and she says, “You can’t pick that kind of tree, that’s the tree he skied into!” They went with a maple.
Location is obviously important too. While I would hope all trees I plant will be there for until the end of time, the reality of an evolving campus means a careful reading of the master plan is in order when choosing a spot to plant a memorial. Class trees tend to be clustered around Library Park, while Memorials try to get planted somewhere meaningful to the person, perhaps near a dorm or an old office. Perhaps the finest example of tree species and location is found in a memorial tree to Pavlo Levkiv ’11, a Bur Oak on the west side of Bicentennial Hall. A very long lived species, and all the room it needs to grow. I wish I was around in 200 years to see it mature.
Prompting this post was a Chinkapin Oak, rare in Vermont, but native to the Clayplain forest. We’d planted one outside Allen Hall, next to the Limestone ledge behind Chateau, in memory of Nicolas Garza ’11. Coming around the corner on what would have been his graduation day, I saw that his classmates hadn’t forgotten him, nor the tree.