The Tree Funeral
Creative punishments and an outdoorsy childhood shape a young conservationist
We gathered in gloomy silence around two shallow pits on the edge of the woods and watched as my 13-year-old cousin lowered each casualty into freshly turned dirt. My 15-year-old brother, other 11-year-old cousin, and my 12-year-old self served simultaneously as supervisors of the punishment’s implementation and as mourners. The victims: two saplings. Dad discovered the carnage during a routine walk of the property. The investigation, interrogation, trial and sentencing — which all took place at the scene of the crime — were swift and, as is always the case with my dad, the penalty was both fitting and creative. An avalanche of evidence pointed to my oldest male cousin (whose name is being withheld because he was a juvenile at the time) as the perpetrator.
It didn’t take long to wrangle out a confession. Dad kept all of us there while the offender grimly dug the graves and buried the young trees, imparting a lesson that day about the meaningless destruction of nature and other people’s property and the consequences to such ill-conceived actions.
A childhood steeped in family camping vacations; hiking and fishing trips; countless hours helping my grandparents care for their livestock and land; and those inventive schoolings at my father’s knee admittedly made a nature-loving conservationist out of me.
Perhaps because of that, time spent at the beach or in the forest is always the quickest way for me to relax and recharge. When a trip to the coast isn’t an option, it’s not a problem. A bike ride on the Tammany Trace hike and bike trail or a nature walk at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve serve as quick fixes to the stressors of city life. In fact, a recent 30-minute visit to the alligator habitat at the University of Louisiana did wonders for my disposition. As my husband Mark and I watched alligators gliding through the water and turtles swimming or sunbathing on logs, my breathing got a little easier and I nearly forgot we were in the middle of downtown Lafayette.
In May, Mark and I went to Toledo Bend. At 185,000 acres, Toledo Bend is the largest man-made body of water in the South and fifth largest in the United States. It is breathtaking. We stayed at Cypress Bend Resort, and while we aren’t anglers or golfers, gorgeous scenery and light hiking kept us occupied for a few days and nights. The swimming pool and bar helped pass a little time too.
One evening during our stay, we smuggled a bottle of bubbly out to the overlook for a sunset toast. As we navigated the slight inclines of the concrete path, fireflies began to flicker in the trees. We could hear the sound of water lapping against the ground as we approached the steep bluff. I did the honors of popping the cork and pouring our drinks. Looking out at Texas in the distance, the sky ablaze with pink, orange, blue and purple, a light breeze came in off of the reservoir rustling the leaves in the trees and we clinked our cups. Surrounded that night by mature pine and shade trees, I made a mental note to call my dad to tell him about our trip and that it reminded me of that one time he staged the tree funeral. Inevitably when I called the next day, the conversation turned to the time I climbed the birch tree, was overcome by a sudden fear of heights and Dad had to rescue me with an extension ladder. That experience gave me an altogether different interpretation of the term tree hugger.