Were it not for her name, we would have missed her.
Tens of thousands of eye-popping tulips, the unfamiliar music of the street organ, the Friesian horses in the field, the replica of the Dutch village, the romantic allure of the red and white bridge, and the winding path to the famous “De Zwann” windmill are overwhelming attractions. She is, after all, small in stature and tucked in a corner alongside the river. Without even a nearby bench to give one pause, to invite the weary to sit and smell the sweetness of her tulip-like blossoms, admire the glossy green leaves of summer, she lives alone. Unnoticed.
Her name is Jane.
Unlike the other seven hybrid magnolia trees in the family of ‘Little Girls,’ the Jane Tree was named after a wife, not a daughter. And not just any wife, Jane was named after the wife of Orville Freeman, the 29th governor of Minnesota; a Lutheran deacon who campaigned against religious bigotry and nominated the first Catholic president for office in 1960. He was a two-term Secretary of Agriculture who initiated the food stamp and school meal programs and was known for his focus on increasing farm incomes while using surpluses to feed the hungry.
The tree’s history is as rich as that of the island.
My mother’s name is also Jane. And although she is 94 years old, she will put her arm in mine and walk the island to listen to the red-winged blackbirds, eye the ducks, geese and once, the tundra swans, marvel at the butterflies and gardens, and, of course, visit the Jane Tree. While at the tree, we talk about family.
Mother, too, was named after an influential Democrat, Virginia Ellen Flood, 1902-1985. While details of her life are sketchy, we know my mother’s aunt went by “Jane” and owned and managed one of the largest insurance agencies in Oklahoma in the middle of the 20th century. She was a trailblazer for women in business and politics before we understood what that meant.
Similar to her namesake, Mother, Jane McKinney, is also considered a pioneer, although she rarely speaks of it. Formerly the Director of Public Information for the East Lansing School District for eighteen years, Mother’s primary responsibility was passing the millage in an era when public school funding depended on millage. Nationally recognized for her creative use of cable television to build relationships between the school district and the community, Mother helped pass the millage every year she was in office.
Like the tree, the Janes in our family are strong, resilient. And they span multiple generations, three of whom posed with the Jane Tree in 2018, when the family held its 72nd consecutive annual family reunion—this one in Holland.
The Jane Tree is worthy of a bench, a place where families can gather to share and create memories. Thanks to Matt Helmus, Windmill Island Garden Development Manager, and the Rotary Club of Holland, the tree will get one this spring.
(as seen in the April 8th issue of The Holland Sentinel)
In response to the invitation from Anne-Marie Oomen and me to write a love letter to water, I received this poem from grade school friend, Eric Stemle. As I study the writing of poetry with master poets such as Billy Collins, Jack Ridl and David Whyte and ways to infuse humor into one’s art with David Sedaris, Eric’s poem is a lesson in both. It is a reminder. Inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere, anything. The important thing is to extend the invitation and then allow space for the conversation.
Extend the invitation. And be open to what unfolds. Or what does not.
Of course, I am speaking about more than water.
Eric is a former Wyoming Teacher of the Year and author of I Was Not the Blossom: Growing with Your Students in a Nurturing Classroom, © 2020.
The month is February, the month of the heart. The year is 2021, the year after one defined by masked and socially-distanced relationships, isolation, and airwaves pummeled with heated and, often, toxic political debate. The voice of award-winning author, Anne-Marie Oomen, is like a beacon of light piercing a misty fog of uncertainty.
Write a love letter to water, she suggests.
As one who has always measured herself on results, my immediate thought is, what would I do with it? But perhaps “doing” is not the main reason to compose such a letter. After a year without exchanging hugs, sharing a meal, or even creating meaningful memories with those I care deeply about, perhaps writing a love letter is exactly what I need to start this new year. Perhaps tapping the intimate language of love for something as essential yet non-threatening as water is the perfect place to prepare for a life of meaningful communication post-pandemic.
Would you like to join me?
If the thought of creating art from the heart feels a bit intimidating and you’re not sure how to begin, listen to Anne-Marie’s suggestions. Whether you write a love letter to water, tell a story, draw a picture, choreograph a dance, pen a poem, take a photograph, or compose a song, I hope you have as much fun as I intend to do. And if you feel like sharing your creative masterpiece, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows where the conversation might take us?
All ages are welcome to participate!
“. . . But Only God Can Make a Tree”
The orange-breasted birds greet us like old friends,
two women escaping the suffocating walls
of a lingering pandemic. Her arm around mine,
perhaps for balance, perhaps intimacy, perhaps both.
The other hand carries a cane, at my request, as we stroll
through the park delighting in the chirp of the cardinals,
the schizophrenic soaring of the swallows,
the dashing hop of the gray, black, and brown squirrels.
Once, from a distance, we saw a family of swans
and from then on, our walks took on new meaning
as we searched for the babies, cygnets, I’m told.
And once, when she thought she could go no further,
I urged her to peek around the corner, just in case,
and, sure enough, they were there. And we continued
to path’s end to see the families of geese and ducks
tucked safely among the shadows of the trees.
Today, there are no robins, cardinals, chickadees,
or swallows. No squirrels. Only the rowdy winds
of autumn, roaring through a riverbank of stumps.
Raw, ravaged stumps.
In my mind, I am penning a letter to a city which chooses
to listen to those demanding a view, but doesn’t ask us
who prioritize seeds, not chain saws; who recognize trees
as essential to addressing the climate challenge
facing the planet; who . . .
I stop because she has stopped, her eyes staring up
at the leafy arms of the sole remaining cottonwood,
and I hear from her lips a song as beautiful as any robin.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. . .
My raging rant dissolves into the lyrics
of Kilmer’s poem, recited by one
whose memory is fading; who,
in few words, says everything as she
spreads the world with honey.
As one of Mother's nighttime caregivers recently tested positive to COVID, Mother and I find ourselves quarantined through Thanksgiving. Two adventurers confined to an apartment, we have decided to call this time "an extended slumber party."
But it is tough. Every cough, sneeze, or headache is a worry.
We are grateful to those wearing masks, social distancing, limiting group gatherings, and doing what is possible to keep everyone safe.
Health is at the top of the list this Thanksgiving. Ours and yours. Please be safe.
The Breakfast Bench
Concealed by a family of Dutch immigrants
cast in bronze and framed in flashy hibiscus,
surrounded by black-buttoned gold called Susans,
a clumpy hedge of roses, a wall of waist-high grasses,
the bench, the two women agree,
as they stroll arm-in-arm up the cobbled path,
is perfect. Perched on top a grassy hill
overlooking a familiar lake,
steps from parking, ignored
by book clubbers seated in a circle
under the arms of an oak,
the knee-high toddler skipping
atop a wall, pregnant mom in chase,
the lovebirds cooing on a distant bench,
the faraway look of a man, fishing pole
leaning against the fence, line dangling,
the wooden bench is ideal for the daughter
and her mother searching for a place
to share the rare treat of fresh muffins,
discuss wind and water, ripples, cats’ paws,
the speed and roar of powerboats,
the slow, deliberate journey of sailors.
When they return, autumn wafts
across the water. First, it is the elder
who is limping, an infection, arthritis;
then the younger, a sprain, a fracture.
The women agree the bench is perfect,
a short walk to normalcy; building winds,
the hum of boats, the cry of seagulls,
the parade of strollers along water’s edge,
a conversation in the language of sailing
on a bench that has weathered the seasons.
To escape the sometimes-suffocating walls of the pandemic, we walk. Mother in her Tilley hat, me with a camera, arm-in-arm, we find joy and adventure exploring the parks in Holland.
A favorite is less than a mile from her home. No matter how often we visit, we marvel at the giant girth and height of the trees, the vast array of colors and shapes of the leaves, the hilarious antics of the squirrels, and the miracle that such a park could exist in the middle of a Holland neighborhood.
Prospect Park, a 7.5-acre parcel of land, was purchased in 1901 by eight citizens determined to restore trees decimated by the fire of 1871. Led by Arend Visscher, an alumnus of Hope College and the University of Michigan Law School, the group pooled energy and resources to purchase the land for $1,830, plant a forest and sell the parcel to the city six years later for $1.
The park is a reminder. We, the people, shape the future of our communities.
I asked author and environmental advocate Dave Dempsey and Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, to recount stories from Michigan’s past, when the state was considered a leader in environmental protection.
The stories are profiles in personal and political courage.
Dave, who has authored a number of books on Michigan’s environment, including Ruin and Recovery: Michigan’s Rise as a Conservation Leader, is quick to point out that it is the people who historically have organized and pushed the politicians to do the right thing, not the other way around.
We provide the political will necessary for decisions that balance the health of the economy with the health of the people—all people—and the planet.
This November, we must elect politicians who have courage to do the right thing, who inspire, people like those described in this video on environmental leadership: Genevieve Gillette, Governor Chase Osborn (R), Governor William Milliken (R), Representative Thomas Jefferson Anderson (D), Senator Lana Pollack (D), and Senator Patty Birkholz (R).
People like the Holland eight.
This November, it is time to remove the most anti-environment president in history. President Donald Trump has rolled back almost 100 environmental protections including the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule; withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, turning a blind eye to the single greatest environmental threat to the planet; oversaw an unprecedented rollback of protections for national monuments like Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase; appointed fossil fuel-industry lobbyists to oversee critical environmental agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior; stacked the courts with anti-environmental judges; and refused to address the social and environmental injustices putting the health of so many people in our country at risk.
It is time for new leadership in the White House.
to Dave Dempsey and Lisa Wozniak,
and all leaders with the courage to balance the health of the economy with the health of the people and the planet,
Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
whose presence on the Supreme Court and on this earth
will be sorely missed.
May we all have her strength and courage.
Last week my mother introduced me to the first two stanzas of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem, “Trees,” a poem she memorized as a child and has not recited since. The words slipped out when we came upon one of the last remaining trees along a favorite riverbank now defined by stumps. Raw, ravaged stumps.
For the almost-six years Mother has lived in Holland, she and I have walked arm-in-arm along Window on the Waterfront, delighting in the melodies of the robins, the chirping of the cardinals; the tweeting of red-winged blackbirds. We have been entertained by the schizophrenic soaring of the swallows, the dashing hop of the gray, black, and brown squirrels, the families of swan, geese and ducks seeking safety among the shadows of the trees and brush along the shore.
Window on the Waterfront, a park easily accessible to the elderly, was unique in its view of water and wildlife. Now that uniqueness is gone—along with the robins, chickadees, cardinals, swallows, and squirrels. Along with the brush that helped filter phosphorous-rich runoff flowing into an already impaired river. Along with the trees that provide the easiest solution to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases; trees, I was told by the city’s forestry department, that were “no good anyway.”
I was told people wanted a better view of the water—a view easily available at nearby Kollen Park and the Heinz Riverfront Walkway. What people? How many? What about us regulars? Who didn’t complain but also didn’t know the city was contemplating such a change? What was the process used to drastically alter the experience of all people enjoying the park? And how does this reflect the city’s commitment to engaging citizens in “Green Thinking and Action?”
Mother remembered the lines of the first two stanzas of Kilmer’s poem. We suggest the city of Holland remember the last line, “But only God can make a tree,” before it allows its staff to take a chain saw to the trees in our community. We suggest the city replant “good” trees this autumn along at least a portion of the riverfront, so the park meets the needs of all people in the community. We are happy to donate one of the trees.
to my mother, who co-signed this letter to the editor to the Holland Sentinel and on whose arm, I have paused to admire the gifts of nature . . . especially the trees.
I heard a knock on the door while I was editing this video about safe water and handed my first-ever “boil water” alert. The utility considered it a precautionary measure—expressing concern about a broken water main nearby and the potential for bacterial contamination in our water. Coincidence? I don’t think so. It was a wake-up call.
Our neighborhood was without safe drinking water for several days—nothing like the years Flint residents suffered. (Some still without water six years later.) When we were given the “all clear” from the utility with an accompanying report I did not understand, I knew only that the water flowing from our tap was anything but clear. And the messages shared in this video and in the documentary, Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, took on new meaning and urgency.
You think it can’t happen to you, until it does. Ask residents of Toledo (algae). Flint (lead). Parchment (PFAS). Three different communities. Three different contaminants poisoning the water flowing from peoples’ taps. What are the implications for all of us?
.In gratitude to those willing to reflect on the lessons we must learn from the Flint water crisis including Reverend Katherine Culpepper, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance; Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, For Love of Water (FLOW); Lana Pollack, 12-year state senator for Michigan; Jumana Vasi, Vasi Consulting, Environmental Justice & Water Policy Strategist; The Presbyterian Church USA for the documentary, “Flint the Poisoning of an American City.”
It took lead contaminating the water in Flint and destroying the dreams of several generations now facing neurological disorders, learning disabilities, heart and kidney disease, and reduced fertility . . .
It took Michigan-specified testing, adopted in 2019 and more rigorous than the EPA, to discover that lead, which is not safe at any level, exists in communities like Birmingham, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Detroit . . .
It took the discovery of “Forever Chemicals”, like PFAS, contaminating the water in 138 Michigan communities and potentially triggering cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, asthma, and thyroid disease . . .
It took climate change, the force behind the more frequent and intense storm events that overwhelmed antiquated water treatment facilities and spilled thousands of gallons of raw sewage into Michigan’s rivers and lakes in cities like Traverse City, Muskegon, Whitehall, Ann Arbor . . .
It took unprecedented rain triggered by climate change to overpower outdated dams in mid-Michigan damaging 3,700 properties with a cost estimated at over $190 million . . .
It took climate change threatening to increase the number of “Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” notices because of nutrient runoff into warmer water, fueling the growth of harmful algal blooms . . .
It took President Trump’s efforts to rollback 100 environmental rules to include scaling back pollution protections for tributaries and wetlands; giving the okay for coal companies to dump mining debris into local streams; exempting power plants from a rule limiting toxic discharge into public waterways; proposing to double the time allowed to remove lead pipes from water systems with elevated levels . . .
And it took a pandemic, where washing hands is critical to limiting its spread, to alert people in this Great Lakes state that 2,477 Michigan residents were living without water because of the unaffordable price and utility decisions to shut off service.
It took all these things for candidates wooing Michigan voters to finally make access to affordable, safe drinking water a priority this election.
And that’s a good thing. But “talk” is easy. How does it compare to reality? Translate into action? Results? I asked Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan organization that elects, educates, and holds accountable elected officials working on behalf of Michigan’s land, air, water, and Great Lakes to share her thoughts as we head into the 2020 election season.
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