Survivor Tree offspring dedicated
A color guard opens the dedication of the trees ceremony at the College of the Siskiyous on May 25.
A solemn presentation of colors by a local Boy Scout troop and the skirl of bagpipes by CDF firefighters opened the formal dedication ceremony of three young elm trees grown from seeds of the Survivor Tree.
The elms were planted Friday in a protected area behind the board room at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.
Three more wait in the wings for planting in what will be an oasis of quiet natural space on the campus in which to reflect and meditate - a peace garden. They are the only offspring of the Survivor Tree known to exist at any public institution in California.
Local resident Marie Mitchell, who lost her brother FDNY Lt. Paul Mitchell in the 9-11 attack, acquired the seeds at a gathering of 9-11 survivor families in 2003 as a gift from Betty Robins, a survivor of the Murrah Federal Building attack in Oklahoma City in 1996 and a founder of the Survivor Tree Program.
For three years they were nursed along by the gardener at Shasta Abbey, first in the greenhouse, then outdoors to weather-harden them. The invocation for Friday's event was delivered by a monk of the Abbey. Rev. Master Kodo Kaye spoke of “the lines of connection” among humans geographically far apart, but close in their hearts.
Betty Robins came to Weed to help dedicate the trees. A friend and colleague of Paul Mitchell, Battalion Chief Steven San Filippo, also participated.
San Filippo did not go home for three weeks after 9-11 because the enormity of the devastation kept him on the front lines.
Both also spoke of the connections, and how they all led to each other from the trial by fire they each experienced, and to Siskiyou County through Mitchell, as well.
The Survivor Tree is a 90 year old tree that once spread its canopy over the parking lot of the Murrah Building and whose shade the workers “coveted,” to use human bombing survivor Robins' word, through the hot Oklahoma summers.
It suffered severe blast damage the day the Murrah Federal Building was bombed. So severe was the damage, in fact, that after investigators finished digging shrapnel out of its wood, the plan was to take it down completely.
Then it did something to reverse the human decision. It leafed out the following spring, as it always had.
Human survivors began to see it as a symbol of resilience and recovery from trauma they could take to their own hearts, and they began to collect its seeds.
Nurserymen throughout Oklahoma began to grow seedlings and distribute them among the survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing.
The distribution spread to those individuals and communities who promised to care for the seedlings. Lines of connection spread in ways and directions the Oklahomans never anticipated via those seedlings. They are now rooted in communities all over the country.
FDNY firefighters came to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of the tragedy to assist any way they could, and a connection was forged between the two cities that brought Oklahomans in their turn to help the 9-11 families, if only to show them that they could go on.
Almost none of the firefighters who rushed to help in Oklahoma had survived the disaster in their own city, San Filippo said, but the cords of connection did.
COS president David Pelham said the trees now taking root in Siskiyou County soil “are dedicated to those who lost their lives and to the concept of international understanding and peace, that these concepts be a focus in our hearts, our minds and our lives for the rest of all time.”
The original tree was nursed back to health and looks surprisingly whole. It still spreads its branches in the midst of the memorial to the event that changed it and so many others for life.