As a volunteer and member of the Farm Advisory Committee, I arrived well before the 2:00 pm start-time for the event to find many of our newer volunteers busily setting up and, after assisting in putting out more gallon nursery plants for sale, I wandered afield with trusty Canon in-hand...
Even the effigy of Luther in the Caretaker Cottage window was decked out for the festivities:
All over the Farm signs of spring have well begun -- such as these Chinese quince blossoms in delicious melon-colors:
Blooms of pear, plum and other fruit in starkest white contrasted beautifully against the bluest blue of a clear, sunny sky:
I especially liked the intense pink of the peach sapling blossoms:
At slightly before 2:00, Monicah Gacegu (a relative of Wangari Maathai) and her entourage arrived:
(Above: Erin Sheffield, Farm Volunteer Coordinator and Event Planner, and Monicah Gacegu embrace before the ceremonies begin.)
(Above: Ms. Gacegu's entourage -- some in native Kenyan costume.)
After which Alex Stanley, Curator of the Farm, gave a short speech outlining the purpose of the event and introducing Ms. Gacegu who took centerstage -- replete in her colorful native garb -- to impart some of her remembrances of Ms. Maathai.
(Above: Ms. Monicah Gacegu.)
"Wangari was the strongest, most courageous woman I ever knew," she began before giving an account of how her sister-in-law faced down land developers and paid government police to protest the construction of an office complex just outside Nairobi that would have destroyed a large chunk of forestland.
I felt such kindred with Wangari (who passed away in Sept. of last year) because I, too, (in my own small way) faced down developers and police in protest of the destruction of a centingenarian wisteria vine in the town of Santa Rosa here in Sonoma County, Northern California. (You can read an account of it in a chapter of my manuscript "Confessions of a Plant Activist" HERE on Gather.)
Adding to my sense of identification was the fact that the entire assemblage was standing right in front of what I believe to be an offspring of that very same vine found extant on the Farm when it, too, was rescued from destruction in the name of "progress".
Wangari was responsible, we were told, for the planting of over 30 million trees in Africa alone. So loathe was she to have even one tree cut down for any purpose that the casket which held her body was woven from orchids and other plant materials in place of wood.
More than an environmentalist, Wangari called for equality for the women of Africa. Ms. Gacegu told of how Wangari would walk through villages calling to the women of the village to come out of their traditional places in the kitchens so that they, too, could be educated and learn about the world surrounding them.
Wangari and her followers in Kenya were called "subversives" -- beaten and arrested many times in their attempts to save the trees and other plants.
"I am against any government that seeks to harm my homeland," she was heard to say...
Finally, in desperation, she and some of her other female followers called upon the dark forces of "black magic" for aid: Standing in a line, they held their dresses up covering their heads while exposing their naked bodies in a gesture known in their culture to level a curse upon anyone foolish enough to oppose them.
Amazingly, the ploy worked as word came down from the President of Kenya to immediately halt any and all progress on the development.
If only that gesture was universal, I thought, I could have used it to save the wisteria vine!
As Ms. Gacegu spoke of Wangari and her bravery (and apparently unnoticed by the rest of the assemblage) I saw a red-shouldered hawk gracefully come to rest on a high branch of a locust tree a short distance away. There it stayed, observing the ceremony in silence, until the assembly broke to move to the site of the tree-planting.
After a very few words of address from the present Vice-Mayor of Sebastopol, the assemblage moved a few yards away to the site chosen for the Arbor Day planting of a pinion pine (chosen for its strength and adaptability) to honor the memories of both Wangari Maathai and Luther Burbank.
There Ms. Gacegu charmed the entire audience with her singular dedication to the task when she insisted upon using every last grain of soil in the wheelbarrow brought by Curator Alex Stanley for the planting:
Sensing the amusement rippling through the crowd, Ms. Gacegu looked up saying "I was raised by a farmer! I was taught well how to plant!"
Ms. Gacegu's two aunts exchange thoughts during the planting ceremony:
The pinyon pine having been planted, the entire assemblage retired to a spot near the Caretaker Cottage for some birthday cake and juice, after which "The Modern Johnny Appleseed", Mr. Tim Womick, presented his rollicking, amusing and fast-paced "Tree Circus" performance to the delight of everyone.
As I drove home in the golden-orange light of the setting sun happily reflecting upon the day's events, I felt sure that both Mr. Burbank and Ms. Maathai would have added their hearty approval as well...
From the ole singlewide here in the wild hinterlands -- Happy Arbor Day, Gather!