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Sunday, September 10, 2006

A busy week with little time for writing or even reflection ...

First for some corrections: My colleague, Lucy, is married to a biologist who (after hearing about our tree) took himself to the center of town for a look. He was able to determine that the tree was an exotic; a Cedar of Lebanon. It stands high above all other trees in the plaza and he judges it to be perhaps a century old.

Another colleague, Michele, who is the city's Arts Manager, upon hearing about our find drove to the mall to see for herself what the excitement was about and in so doing, met two older African American men with whom she spent some time chatting. She learned that, indeed, they had been visiting this tree since boyhood (they're now quite aged), and were decrying the fact that the benches had been removed only last October by the police department. "We have to stand up now, so we can't spend much time here anymore... ." How sad!

She also noted that they referred to the Cedar as "The Tree of Knowledge." I'd somehow transformed it to "The Wisdom Tree" in my memory and we need to now change back to the name these men used. I ran into Jerrold at the Point Richmond Street Festival yesterday and he confirmed this. This continues to speak to a long and honored tradition and surely for the need to restore this giant to its former status as one of the important anchors and protectors of the old downtown.

As the city staffer in charge of Arts and Culture (which includes the Arts Commission, the Advisory Committee for Public Art, and all things related), Michele immediately saw the need for removal of the signs of prohibition, the possibility of restoring seating, large story photographs of the area before "progress" intervened; a mural on one of the walls, and the need to talk with the police department right away to see how much of this is feasible. It was her feeling that the police chief who is newly-appointed, will see the light.

Meanwhile, I visited with the executive director of the Main Street Initiative (the nonprofit working with others to rehabilitate the city's central core), to tell her about what we've found, and to let her know how grateful we are for the fact that her organization and the Richmond Police Department had cleaned up this alleged "hot spot" and that -- now that several months had passed since their actions took place -- the city and the park can now reclaim the site and redirect its use. I'm hopeful that no one will feel uncomfortable or criticized for trying to make this troubled area safe for the patrons of the shopping mall. She showed no signs of annoyance and promises to share our wondrous find with her board at their next meeting.

There is talk about the possibility of trying to interest some local writer of children's books to create one about our Tree of Knowledge. Someone has suggested that it might be wonderful to have each of the many schools in the school district plant a Tree of Knowledge on their own sites -- perhaps on Arbor Day.

Our Cedar embodies so much that is relevant to the reclaiming of history. There are surely environmental issues; its name carries biblical references (important to the black community); and, "Lebanon" hints at today's headlines. There's something very timely in all this, wouldn't you say?

Wish I had another ten years to spend at this. The City of Richmond and the National Park Service will be co-creating this park over time. There are many such discoveries waiting to be revealed -- "The Untold Stories and Lost Conversations" -- if only we continue to sharpen our listening skills and carefully monitor these old/new paths that have been ignored for the past century.

The next phase will be that of engaging the community, industries, corporations, neighborhood councils, etc., in discussions about what it means to be a Gateway City for a National Park. Can you imagine how exciting this can be?





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