WAY OUT HERE - Hug my trees, hug my family

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Well, here goes -- my first column for the Walla Walla Valley Weekly. I'm excited to have the opportunity to not only have a voice in the community, but also to get feedback from other folks in the area.

I live way out here in the west county, near Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. Our nearest neighbor is at least three or four chucks of a rock away.

My wife and I love the peace and solitude here in the boonies, but it's been a big adjustment for both of us.

I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle and Tina grew up on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, so one thing we're used to is having a lot of trees around. I think they make us feel protected and at home.

But way out here, there are definitely not a lot of trees. In fact, there weren't any trees here at Walkers Ranch when we bought the place. There was pretty much just a bunch of tumbleweeds and dust devils.

So our first priority was to get some trees planted.

Not just any trees, but meaningful trees -- transplanted starts that I got from my grandparents homestead farm outside of Warden, my childhood home in Redmond, and from my brothers' mountainside cabin outside of Leavenworth. All of which are places filled with family, love and freedom.

So these trees mean something to me. They're more than just branches and leaves. They're a connection to family, home and memories -- past, present and future.

When I look at the Japanese elms that now flourish in my front yard, I'm reminded of the great elms that my grandmother planted long before her hair turned gray (and she started to shrink ... just saying).

When I look at my black locust trees, I see the original two black locust trees that my parents planted in their backyard, long before I was born. Then, when I was 7 years old, my dad and I built a tree fort in those two trees. A few decades later they sprouted the seeds that are now growing strong here at Walkers Ranch.

When I look at my fledgling pine trees, I see my brothers' mountainside cabin surrounded by old- growth timber, and my two young nephews who helped to dig those transplants.

So you see, these trees are not just things that provide shade or a wind break; they're actually part of our family, our soul.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a tree hugger. I'm not gonna tell you that trees are people, too, and that their feelings should be respected, blah, blah, blah. Let's be realistic here, they're just trees ... right?

But think about all the great aspects of trees. They generate oxygen for us to breathe and reduce carbon dioxide in the air.

They provide homes and shelter for a myriad of animals, bugs and grubs -- and even a place for kids to play.

They give us shade in the summer and block the wind when it howls in the winter (or all year round, as is the case in our neck of the woods).

They can prevent erosion or become a bridge over a creek. Some grow fruit for us to eat and they're even used to build our homes.

I could go on and on. Is there anything trees don't do? If they didn't exist, would we?

On second thought, maybe I am a tree hugger. I'm not embarrassed to say that. With all they do for us and all the other creatures of the world, why not? As a matter of fact, I'm proud to be awed and inspired by the tall soldiers.

Now that I think about it, back in the day I remember writing a poem with a friend, Mark Ole Gabrilsen, that was inspired by a large, old-growth cedar. We were camping on Coal Lake in the Cascade Mountains. We didn't have a pen or paper, so we actually wrote it with the ash from a small burning branch on a grocery sack. There are two more things that trees provide us, fire and paper. And even writing utensils. How cool is that!?

Anyhow, this is the poem, "The Big Green Tree," we wrote way back when:

Smoke in my eyes/Clouds in my brain/Trees all around/There is no rain Cliffs climbing up/Snow sliding down/Water in between/Peace all around/ Clouds flying low/ My head hangin' high/Fire burning slow/ Reflection in the sky/ Concrete and politics are only memories/ I thank this paradise for making me free/ The aging process ceases/Seasons only change/The fountain of youth/Is inside my brain The clouds fly away/Stars above/The air all around/Is filled with love/ Do you feel/Do you know/The power of this land/ Do you feel?/Do you know? I AM THE BIG GREEN TREE!

Yep. I'm definitely a tree hugger. Just not in a political way, I guess. So am I the only one who's awed and inspired by trees like this? Am I on an island way out here? Or do you and your family have stories and connections to your own trees? When you stop and think about it, every single tree in the world must have a story to tell.

Western Walla Walla County writer Erik D. Walker is the author of "In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger," available at www.walkersranch.com or www.amazon.com. He can be reached at erikandtina@walkersranch.com.

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