A family place at the arboretum

Submitted photoAndrea Witt describes her love of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

Bickelhaupt Arboretum has been part of my family for more than 40 years. In 1979 my husband and I were married in spring under one of its massive oaks. It was a blue sky beautiful day that I trusted in so much, there was no back-up plan in case of rain. The birds serenaded us with their music, the soft breezes caressed us and the trees had erupted in blossoms days before to provide beauty no manmade cathedral could surpass.

In 1986, maybe by coincidence, maybe by a larger design, my family moved a few blocks from the arboretum. At the time, the Bickelhaupts were both alive and active among the trees that were much younger, smaller and fewer than the glorious collections they now feature. Troublesome plant bits from our yard were trotted over to “the old man of the trees” (as we called him) and Mr. Bickelhaupt would say “How much are you watering it? It needs water.” He was right. Always.

I have always felt something very spiritual in the beauty made visible in trees. In Japan, a walk among trees is referred to as a “forest bath.” The arboretum was my go-to place for a walk when it was not about miles and speed, but about my need for a forest bath, a salve for my soul. When my temper or fears got the best of me, a bench in the arboretum was where I could untangle my thoughts. My children grew to appreciate it as youngsters, but even more as they grew a bit older. It was a perfect place to walk with friends, sweethearts and even Mom.

When our son married, the arboretum was the backdrop for their beautiful wedding photos. When our infant grandson passed, our son’s friends provided a memorial donation to the arboretum in little Bennett’s memory, knowing it would be an ongoing reminder of their love and support. When volunteering for the arboretum’s No Child Left Inside classes, I think of Bennett as I share arboretum wonders with local schoolchildren.

When my husband and I retired, we were drawn to the arboretum. My husband, a bird lover, checks the bluebird houses in the spring for sparrow squatters. As for me, pulling Kentucky coffee tree suckers, yanking weeds in floral beds, dead heading roses, watering plants in the solarium, and mulching around the conifers is the best workout and much cheaper than a gym membership.

Now my grandchildren run among the trees or smell the flowers in the wildflower garden or dance with the monarchs near the butterfly garden. They stare up at a tree’s woody branches swinging above and laugh as they try to catch a leaf that drifts down. We teach them about the nature around them and they sponge it up with awe on their faces.

David and Margo always sincerely thank me for anything I do as if it is a gift I am giving them. I am always surprised by this because I do not see it as my gift to the arboretum; I see it as their gift to me and my family. To walk among nature’s outdoor museum and art gallery, to inhale sweet earth scents, to touch the bark of trees older than I can imagine, to reflect on my circle of life, where I have been and where I am going is the arboretum’s gift to me. And what a treasure it is.

Andrea Witt is retired and a regular volunteer at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

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