"I was 3 years old," recalls Kayla Weston, "my father had passed." Now 8, Kayla remembers planting an oak tree in Chatsworth in memory of her father. "I dropped a penny into the hole for good luck. But a lot of other people were there too, digging, planting. I was putting the dirt in, it felt moist in my hand -- a good feeling."
Kayla's experience turned planting a tree into a healing ritual with real and lasting results. The L.A. nonprofit group TreePeople uses such experiences to help heal a sunstroked desert city.
TreePeople, working with other conservation groups, has facilitated the planting of about 10,000 trees in the mountains of Southern California, almost 1,000 near L.A. schools and 650 along city streets. It has distributed about 3,000 fruit trees to community groups.
Like the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, TreePeople's goals include education and training. But in ways different from almost any other group, TreePeople turns volunteers into actual reforesters.
The best part of the deal is that mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends -- and, yes, even the kids -- can participate in a positive, rewarding activity.
"We educate the children on the environmental issues, teach them how to plant trees, then they do all the work and care for the trees later," says Chip English, TreePeople Community Outreach Coordinator.
For the "big kids" -- teens, adults and families -- English says, "We have a citizen forestry class. Three days, three Saturdays and no requirements; the course entails learning about Los Angeles environmental issues and how we can solve many of the problems." .
"A portion of that training," he adds, "is the tree planting itself -- we teach them step by step, including getting permits." The laws of Mother Nature and more than a few municipal codes have to be considered. The mythical Johnny Appleseed method of tossing out seeds here and there won't do: Trees cannot be planted within six feet of a driveway, and you need permits to plant on city property -- that space between the sidewalk and the curb. Then there are soil types, soil preparations and the varieties of native plants to be considered.
Trees can help give a neighborhood a new identity and encourage civic pride, and TreePeople says studies have shown that property values can rise by as much as 15%.
Liz Altschule, who coordinates the community plantings for the organization, recalls many occasions "when a single citizen's inspiration has infected an entire neighborhood." Altschule says that that kind of success takes planning.
For some volunteers, the three-day forestry training course with TreePeople is just the beginning. David Avshalomov became connected with the program through a street planting in his neighborhood eight years ago. "I had such a great time," he says.
From that point on, Avshalomov plugged into mountain planting programs. "It gave me an excuse to go up to Frazier Mountain, the Santa Monicas, the Angeles Forest and out to San Bernardino." Avshalomov added, "I'm Jewish, and in my religion there is a special blessing for a man who plants a tree that he knows he won't live to see grow to maturity."
These more rigorous activities, of course, would be best suited for physically fit teens and adults.
But TreePeople organizes a special variety of tree planting, an activity for all ages -- the tree dedication. A tree or a small grove may celebrate a momentous occasion or can serve as a memorial to a loved one.
"At these plantings we'll begin with coffee and doughnuts, then have a brief planting demonstration. Participants break off into small groups and the groups plant and water their trees," English explains. "Many people will have a little ceremony: form a circle, take hands and say a prayer or meditate."
Whether sprucing up the neighborhood, helping to maintain the mountain watershed or honoring a loved one, tree planting is an activity that any child -- or adult -- can enjoy. Then comes the lifelong satisfaction of watching it grow.
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Tree plantings and workshops for all ages
Wind Wolves Preserve Oak Restoration: This recently acquired cattle rangeland in the Tehachapi Mountains backcountry is in need of extensive reforestation. Oak trees will be planted.
When: Jan. 11, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday night camping.
Info: Tom Persons, (818) 623-4846.
Landale Street Planting, Part 2, Studio City: Join TreePeople and the Landale Street Neighborhood Assn. in planting trees on Riverside Drive, beautifying a now barren off-ramp.
When: Jan. 18, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Info: Liz Altschule, (818) 623-4875.
Campus Forestry Workshop: Would you like to plant trees on your school campus? Workshop will train parents, teachers and community members in the many aspects of greening a campus.
When: Jan. 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Info: Mariah MacNeil, (818) 623-4860.
Spad and Westwood Planting, Culver City: The third in a series of plantings throughout Culver City's residential streets. On this day, 20 trees will be planted.
When: Jan. 25, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Info: Liz Altschule at (818) 623-4875.
Cactus Flats Planting and Campout: The Cactus Flat area is on the northern edge of the San Bernardino National Forest at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. This project will involve planting sagebrush and Joshua trees in pinyon-juniper woodland. Camping Friday and Saturday nights.
When: Jan. 25, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Info: Tom Persons, (818) 623-4846.
Balboa Median Strip Tree Care, Encino: More than 40 oaks are standing strong here thanks to the efforts of Sandy Vizcarra. Learn how to help these urban natives thrive. Due to traffic concerns, volunteers age 15 and older only, please.
When: Jan, 25, 9 a.m. to noon.
Info: Jennifer Scott-Lifland, (818) 623-4841.