By Paula Urtecho
There’s just something about trees. They draw people in. When staff members of The Watershed Project are out in the North Richmond community planting trees or caring for trees or even just looking at trees, invariably people come around to see what we are doing. They start to ask questions about the trees like, what kind of trees are these, why are they being planted and, more often than one would think, they ask, “Can I help?”
North Richmond is a residential community surrounded by industry. The Chevron refinery looms over the western edge of the area and railways and highways intersect the community. Because of the potential for and the impact of industrial pollution in this community, The Watershed Project is working on a project to plant fifty (50) trees in planting strips between the sidewalk and street and/or in the front yards of private property so that the trees can mitigate some of the effects of industrial pollution and provide a cooling effect for the community.
During a recent tree planting event where volunteers from SunPower were helping to plant trees in front of a neighborhood convenience store, a woman walked up to buy some food at the store. The store was not yet open, so she watched as we prepped to begin planting. Her name was Maggie and she’s a long-time community member. She began to ask questions about what we were doing and soon she asked if she could help to plant the trees.
We were delighted to have Maggie’s help and she proved herself to be very hardworking and detail-oriented. She became our go-to person to construct water retention berms around the planted trees and she took pride in making them absolutely perfect. After the planting, Maggie told me how much she enjoyed planting the trees and that she would be interested in helping out again. Maggie said she was a breast cancer survivor and that on some days she didn’t feel great, but on the days when she felt good, she liked to work hard! I told her how much we appreciated her help and that she was welcome to join us anytime she was up for it.
At another tree planting site, a colleague and I struggled to excavate a hole in extremely compacted clay soil. We’d swung pick axes and used a heavy digging bar and had barely made a dent on the soil surface! As we took a break from the digging and forlornly looked over our pitifully meager gains, a gentleman named Carlos strolled up. He worked the graveyard shift for a street paving company and was winding down after working all night. He saw that we were trying to plant a tree and without prompting, he took up a shovel and started to work at the planting hole. In short order he loosened up the soil and excavated the hole for us. We thanked him profusely and commented on how he made the digging look easy! He said he looked at it as exercise and was happy to help plant a tree. And just as suddenly as he had appeared, he disappeared. Thanks to Carlos’ help, the tree was soon in the ground. As we watered and mulched and put the finishing touches on the planting, Carlos strolled up again, this time with his wife. They signed up to have a tree planted in front of their home.
There’s just something about trees…