In September of 2016, under cover of broad daylight, assisted by her two trusty partners in crime, whom also served as convenient sweet little innocent distractions to any suspecting walkers in the area, Jackie Willowtree smuggled in and planted the contraband.
“It often tends to be, uh–well the whole concept of legality doesn’t matter much. It’s the intention. As long as you know what you’re doing.”
–So advises Tony Santoro on his pilfered scooter in his Guide to Illegal Tree Planting, as delivered in his profanity-laced classic New York City Italian-American accent.
There’s this gal. It’d be unfair and incorrect to say she hates people, but she doesn’t tend to like them. And that’s different than saying she dislikes them and nowhere near close to saying she hates them. Whatever the particular case may be, she’d rather avoid them, those people, all of those people.
She might like to volunteer with some of the local forest and wilderness organizations and associations that work to maintain open and usable trails or work to restore and revitalize natural habitats.
But these groups tend to be as much of a social club as they are work parties out to actually work. She’d like to work, to lend a hand and help improve and protect the backcountry and wildlife, but she’s not looking to socialize.
Then there is the rigmarole of safety requirements and legal obligations. She is not donning a hard hat like a New York City construction worker only to clip twigs and branches along a flat trail.
So she went out on her own. An unofficial undocumented botanical subcontractor for the Department of Unauthorized Forestry.
As a keen spectator in the stands of America overlooking the public arena and watching the ruling class, political and business alike, she well knew it’s easier to ask for forgiveness afterward than permission beforehand.
And then if caught and interrogated, to claim poor memory. “I don’t recall.”
She imagined, with amusement, the bureaucratic tangle of laws and regulations and rules and policies and protocols the official in charge of the nature preserve would sputter on about having to abide by and fulfill.
She found it impossible to believe she would ever receive a prompt, “Yes! Marvelous idea. Go right ahead and plant that tree.”
Her experiences in such pursuits strongly suggested such quick and easy approval would never occur.
And that’s to say nothing of the personal preferences of the official in charge whom, as kind and upright as they must be, may not appreciate the suggestion of some lone unassociated stranger horning in on their turf or who may have specific opinions of their own about what type of tree should be planted and where, if anything should be planted at all.
Never mind it all. Just plant the damn tree! she thought. A real rebel. Risking nothing.
Jackie Willowtree. Out to, gasp, plant a tree.
She imagined, once more with amusement, being busted for planting a tree, being interrogated and lectured for such a transgression. The teacher’s voice from Charlie Brown.
She imagined the tree ripped from the ground by officials like spray-paint graffiti wiped from a building.
The willow cutting growing strong in July of 2019.
She walked a section of the dry Santa Ynez River in the spring of 2016, where in her younger years a quiet swimming hole once pooled, but which was now choked with sediment and cattails.
What was once a long open gravel beach just a few years ago was now bristling with young willow trees that had sprouted and grown tall during the current record drought and low water levels, the river never running swift enough to clear out its bed.
Here she scanned the thin, tall trees for the straightest, best shaped and healthiest specimens.
She selected a 20 foot sprout and cut the top off and trimmed the large six foot scion, removing the lowermost branches to create a tree-shaped cutting.
She placed the cutting in a bucket of rain water for several weeks, changing the water as necessary until a thick mat of pink and red roots formed.
She planted the huge sprout in a pot where it grew for several months through summer to establish a robust and dense root ball.
Then on a fine late summer day she hauled the rooted clone to the spring at San Marcos Potrero on the North Side.
She dug a hole and sunk it in the ground beside the small puddle that was still, despite the drought, being filled by the reliable little trickle of ground water that poured from the rusted pipe.
Four years later the tree remains, standing much larger and fuller now with a big green bushy head of leaves and a fattened, crazed trunk. The tree casts a cool afternoon shadow over the puddled spring water wherein the frogs swim and where from the mammals and birds drink.
Here at the spring where before no tree stood in what had been a bare naked exposed and shadowless, sun-scorched hot spot.
Now, a green new future grows.