Tree Hugger from Upstate New York
By June S. MacArthur
From my earliest remembrance of about age three and a half, I lived in the countryside in Upstate New York on an apple orchard and chicken farm. I remember walking in the woods across from our house with my father and brother, Gerald, who was four years older. We were on a trail with Gerald ahead of me and Dad behind me when my father suddenly spoke sternly, “June! Stop now!” And I did. In the path ahead of me, where Gerald had just walked, was slowly uncurling a rattlesnake. Dad said, “Your brother seems to have woken up a rattler.”
Gerald yelled because he hadn’t seen it as he obviously had walked over it. My brother wanted to kill it but Dad said, “No, snakes are important. Just be aware that it’s their home too.” We watched it slither off into the underbrush. After that, I always made a point to watch where I was walking in fields or woods and was never surprised or afraid of snakes; I just gave them their own space.
After my 2nd grade year, my parents divorced and my mother and us kids moved into the village of Fair Haven, New York. I soon joined the Campfire Girls and our leaders kept us involved with the nearby woods and Lake Ontario, so I grew up continuing to love the countryside and woods.
In the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I met Phil, the man who would become my husband of 47 years (so far). He had been a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. His father had a farm which included growing Christmas trees for annual sales and Phil occasionally worked in the woods with his dad. Phil also spent a number of years as a lumberjack so there was a great deal of time spent out in the woods, identifying trees. He planted many trees from their own farm around the village of Fair Haven, often as the phantom tree planter.
Today, Phil takes great pride in telling his nephews and nieces that a number of the big stately trees that dot the village streets were his plantings. He’s carried on the tradition wherever we’ve lived, such as Laurel, MD; Huntsville, AL; Austin, TX, and Key West and Cudjoe Key, FL. He’s been especially active here in Oswego, although here he’s been responsible for more trimming and care of city trees then phantom planting.
To talk about myself I have to include Phil because we are a family of two by choice and what one does, the other is usually involved just as passionately. I wasn’t with him the spring morning in 2008 when the Oswego City Policeman stopped to talk with him. The City Police received a call from a nervous bank teller who complained about a strange man on a green bike with a bike helmet on, who was sawing and hacking at the trees in front of their bank. Phil and the nice young policeman had a little chat about what he was doing. He wondered if Phil had permission to do this tree work and Phil explained that the City Community Developer, Mary Vanouse, had given us approval to do this. We were in the process of starting a volunteer tree steward group, but this policeman helped hurry us along. Phil would do the tree trimming training and I would do the organization and PR with the help of Mary Vanouse.
In fact, it was Mary Vanouse who told us about the ReLeaf Conference being held in Ithaca at Cornell that summer of 2008; she thought we might want to meet some other tree huggers. Since we had a niece and nephew-in-law living there and we were retired and looking for some way to give back to society, this seemed like the thing to do. So we went to our first NYS Urban Forestry Council summer conference, and the rest has become history.
In terms of my non-tree side, I read probably three books a week, few of which are modern. I favor Hal Borlander, Edwin Way Teale, Robert Frost, May Sarton, Edward Abbey, Lillian Jackson Braun, poetry books, cookbooks, and biographies and memoirs (mostly about naturalists, writers, and people who lived in the wild for a year or longer).
We have three rescue cats and are enjoying our first 100-year-old house in Oswego. For about 12 years, we traveled around much of the USA in one of six different campers and travel trailers before settling down in the Florida Keys where we lived for 30+ years. I’ve written poetry, non-fiction and fiction my whole life, having been published in camping magazines, newspapers, and regional magazines—but I finally completed my BA in Creative Writing from SUNY Oswego in 2008, two years after we retired.
I suffered from food allergies for many years, finally finding out I was celiac about 12 years ago. This past July 4th weekend we went to Vegetarian Summer Fest for the second time and Phil and I have finally seen the health-light and have gone vegan permanently (we’ve been vegetarians close to 20 years).
The Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” … is definitely my motto! I’ve seen changes happen throughout my whole life and especially now with our tree volunteer group, Oswego Tree Stewards. They make me proud, whether it’s going out on Saturdays mornings and pruning street and park trees, or helping groups plant new city trees, or going to schools and clubs and talking about the importance of Oswego’s tree canopy.
With the help of a small number of the Oswego Tree Stewards we worked on creating a tree ordinance, which included creation of a tree advisory board and partnering with other groups; we were able to get the ordinance passed by our city council and the mayor when we made the powers that be realize how important establishing a healthy tree canopy is to our city. The benefits of trees to our city we NYSUFC members know well, including reduction of carbon, mitigating the heat island effect, slowing stormwater runoff, enhancing property values, and creating wildlife habitat for songbirds and other small animals.
Being a board member of the NYS Urban Forestry Council excites me because I’m learning ways we can help improve the state’s tree canopy health and the Council gives us the networking capability to make it happen. I’m really looking forward to our future endeavors.