Rooted Like a Tree

“A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world.”
– Ralph W. Emerson

One of the main reasons for my recent voyage back to South Dakota was to accomplish something I’ve been daydreaming about for a while… planting a tree in honor of The Hubs.

This idea started out a simple seed planted by one of the mementos I chose for The Hubs’ funeral. Along with the program booklets, I chose to hand out small bookmarks with The Hubs’ photo. Attached on the top was a heart made of paper seeded with wildflowers. The hope was that his friends and family would plant the heart and watch the flowers bloom, wild and alive, bold and beautiful, just like he was. I kept many of these bookmarks with the intention of one day planting a small wildflower garden that would grow and remain like his presence does with us. Over two years later, I still haven’t done that.

Every time I thought of returning to our home in Rapid City, I envisioned going back to one of our favorite spots in nature. We spent a lot of time in Founder’s Park and Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park, walking and soaking up the outdoors. The Hubs loved to fish in Rapid Creek and climb Vegan Boulder (Settler’s Rock). He had just began rock climbing about a year earlier and because of our overseas move hadn’t progressed to climbing to great heights yet. He really enjoyed his new favorite sport and was perfecting his technique through bouldering (and my pregnant self enjoyed watching him :) ) One of our last trips there, right before his deployment, we bundled our then-two-month-old Little Man in the stroller and took a walk along the paths by the creek. He pointed up to the rock face stretching to the top of the hill and said, ‘One day I’m going to climb that.’

Fast forward to about a month ago. I mentioned to a close friend of mine, J, that I was going to scatter some of those wildflower seeds at our spot when I visited one day. I tossed out the idea of planting a tree, too… anything to leave a piece of The Hubs there always.

Imagine my surprise when a few days later, J (who lives there) tells me he has not only tracked down the owners of the land but has gotten permission from them to plant a tree.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, knowing J and his character, as well as how much he loved The Hubs and now loves our family. I was touched and immediately motivated. Plans were made, plane tickets were booked. It was time to make my little daydream a reality…and it turns out reality would be much grander than my dreams in this case! Over a period of only two weeks, thanks to a lot of research and the help of a few wonderful people, what was initially a small idea of privately scattering a few seeds evolved into a public memorial tree-planting ceremony in honor of The Hubs.

It was decided to move the location up to the top of the hill, not only to protect the tree but because of what The Hubs’ said about the rock face… He never got the chance to climb it, so I would climb it for him and leave a piece of him there. We chose a spot, coordinated the ceremony, and chose a tree.

The tree chosen in honor of The Hubs is a Hackberry, selected not only for it’s hardiness for the location but also for a few of its characteristics. Legend says one of the greatest Hackberry’s was grown from the heart of a warrior. Native American history shows that Hackberries were often carried amongst other seeds and berries in medicine bags around the neck to ward off evil and protect the carrier. In one story an Indian chief was killed in battle with a Hackberry in his bag. Not too long after, the seed began to sprout in the heart of the deceased warrior. From it grew a tall Hackberry tree, the only one of it’s kind in the area, located on the top of a hill. I loved this story and it’s metaphor to our situation. I also loved the fact that the Hackberry tree fruits in September, a way of bringing life to the month that took life from us, and attracts birds and other wildlife that I love so much.

So, on the hot morning of June 29th, 2012 a piece of a beautiful hill was dedicated to an amazing man. I was deeply touched by how many people showed up on such short notice and climbed the hill in the heat to honor him, and by the beautiful words that were said. I struggled through a short mumbling of why we were there, and J followed with a message about taking opportunities in life. As part of the ceremony, we attached personal notes to the tree to dedicate it to The Hubs. I brought along messages from his family, including Little Man, so they could be a part of the ceremony. In keeping with legend, I left the notes attached to the tree…wishes and blessings sent out into nature for The Hubs. And they are still there (on biodegradable paper, no worries), sending love to the man this was all about.

I can’t imagine this being more perfect than it was. I’m still amazed at how it all came together and truly believe it was all a blessing from above. I thank God for this chance to honor the man I love so much, and I thank my beautiful friend J for all of his hard work as well as the owners of Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park for their kindness and accommodation, Ellsworth AFB PA for covering the story, and all of the wonderful people who attended the ceremony. I know The Hubs was there with us that morning and his legacy will remain as deeply rooted as a tree within all of us…

And what is a much-too-long commentary without pictures? :)

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Could there be a better view?

The wonderful D, groundskeeper for Hansen-Larson Memorial Park, chipping away at the rock-laden ground with his pick.

J finishing up the prep work with D regaling us with his stories of the hill.

J prepping the tree for planting the next morning…

Sitting and thinking after all of the prep work was done.

An absolutely beautiful location and sunset.

The next few photos of the actual ceremony were taken by A1C Anania Tekurio, USAF Still Photographer for 28 BW Public Affairs, Ellsworth AFB, SD.

And more taken when I visited the tree before I left…

A view of the climb up the hill.

So many beautiful messages left for The Hubs…

This tree planted in Memory of SSgt Berky.

You’ll always be present in one of your favorite places…. and always rooted in our hearts, my love.

 

“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory.  They speak his praises
without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.”
– Lord Orrery, 1749

Naomi

Just reading this brings tears to my eyes. And whilst they are tears of sorrow there is also healing in them, cleansing, perhaps. Such a beautiful remembrance for a beautiful man. I think you picked a perfect way of honouring your hero, our hero. And I look forward to seeing the photos in future years of how the tree has grown. Thank you for sharing this, Erin.

Love
Naomi

Sonya

Erin this is amazing. I love that you did this and love how you write. So very hard to read Sitting here crying harder than I have in a while. So many were there to honor Bryan. I miss my Bug everyday. 34 months and I know it’s a nightmare I will never wake up from. So very Thankful for the time we had with bug but still so mad at what we all will never have. Son, brother, hubby and daddy and friend to so many. Love and miss Bryan so very much.

Toni

Hi Erin, so very glad to see that you were invited to plant a tree in his honor in one of his favorite places. You write so eloquently even though there is so much pain that you must still feel. I applaud you for being able to do this for I would not be able to do the same. I will look for pictures in the future following how the tree grows and matures with the years. Always know that the EOD community is there for you, including I, if you should ever need anything. Take care and keep your chin up! You are doing a wonderful job of sharing your love for a man who gave all for his country.

Erin

Thank you so much for your sweet message Toni, and for your support! The EOD community is truly one big family and I am so thankful. I will definitely update as the tree grows! <3

Erin

I’m so glad your messages are out there and I hope the story and pictures paint an image of that day. It was truly special. I’m seriously contemplating the writing we talked about, it is therapeutic and I am glad it helps others. Love you so much!

Erin

Thank you so much Naomi! I look forward to seeing the tree grow and visiting it again one day. It feels wonderful to know a piece of him is there. <3

Hi Erin!
I wanted you to know that I have chosen you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. You can see the details about your nomination on my blog post: http://dejongdreamhouse.blogspot.com/2012/08/very-inspiring-blogger-award.html.

If you accept the award please note there are rules: 1) Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post. 2) Share 7 interesting things about yourself. 3) Nominate 7 bloggers you admire. 4) Leave a comment on each of the blog’s letting them know they have been nominated.

Chills and tears looking at those pictures – Love and hugs

Chills and tears looking at those pictures – Love and hugs my dear.

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