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  • Ednold

If Trees Could Talk 3/30/23

According to Hideko Tamura Snider, August 6, 1945 was “the happiest morning”. It was sunny and beautiful. The previous day Snider and her best friend Miyoshi had convinced their mothers to let them return to the Japanese city of Hiroshima from a mountain village where they had gone to avoid potential air raids from Allied forces in World War II. Hideko awoke to that exquisite morning and couldn’t wait to see her friend and spend the entire day playing again. Then at 8:15am the world’s first deployed atomic bomb was dropped over the city of 350,000 people, and Hideko’s plans, and her life, changed in a hurry.

After Hiroshima, a manufacturing center located about 500 miles from Tokyo, had been selected as the first target for America’s new weapon, the uranium-235 bomb was flown to the U.S. base on the Pacific island of Tinian, where it was loaded aboard a modified B-29 named Enola Gay after the pilot’s mom. The plane dropped the bomb known as Little Boy by parachute that August morning and it exploded 2,000 feet above the city in a blast equal to 15 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 80,000 people. By the end of the year the death toll would be close to twice that, as others died from radiation exposure and other effects of the bombing. But it didn’t kill everyone, or everything.

I’ve heard the debates about the morality and ethics of the decision to drop the bomb and have read convincing arguments written by people who believe it had to happen, and others who think it should never have happened. I do wonder what would have become of my grandfather, who was busy repairing boats on Okinawa. Would he have been called to combat and killed in action if things would have played out differently? Would that unfortunate goat he killed while on guard duty have had a longer and happier life if the atom bomb hadn’t been an option? Nobody will ever know. Most of us weren’t around at that time and none of us were in the shoes of those who made that decision, so the point is moot, and I hope nobody’s feelings about this story are dependent on which side of that fence you happen to stand on. That’s not what this is about. Everyone can agree that peace is preferable to war, right? Let’s get back to the story.

Hideko Tamura was ten years old on that August morning and was the only member of her family to survive both the bomb and its after-effects. Following the flattening of the city by the blast, Hideko was able to extricate herself from the ruins of her grandmother’s home and then survived the ensuing firestorm that took the lives of many who’d lived through the initial detonation. Fast-forward a few decades and Hideko is living in… Oregon! Since then, she has written a couple of books about her experiences, and also founded the One Sunny Day Initiative to promote peace and nuclear disarmament around the world.

That’s pretty cool but, even into her 80’s Hideko was still doing other things, too. On a trip back to Japan she learned that a non-profit group, Green Legacy Hiroshima, was collecting seeds from Hiroshima’s atom-bomb survivor trees, known as hibakujumoku, and distributing them all over the world as symbols of peace and resilience. These hibakujumoku had been blasted by an atomic bomb and they said “Is that it? That’s all you got?” They didn’t really say that, because trees can’t talk. But if they could have, that's what they would have said, and they just kept growing. In 2017 Hideko convinced the Oregon non-profit Oregon Community Trees to request some of the seeds and germinate them. They were able to obtain some of the gingko and persimmon seeds, get them to sprout, and then enlisted the Oregon Department of Forestry to care for the seedlings.

Within a few years there were saplings ready for planting, and a campaign was begun to distribute them all across the state of Oregon, and requests for trees came in from schools, colleges, cemeteries, churches, parks and arboretums. Communities around the state received the seedlings at no cost; all they had to do was promise to plant them in public places. The first Peace Tree – a ginkgo – was planted in a park in Lake Oswego in 2019. Last year the 51st tree was planted in Gresham on September 19, and two days later the final seedling was planted in Salem on September 21, the International Day of Peace.

These offspring of the trees that survived the atom bomb can be found all over the world but, of course, nowhere other than Japan itself will you find more Peace Trees than Oregon. If you ever find yourself in the town of Elgin in Union County, you can find a Peace Tree there. I’m not sure why anyone would ever go to Aumsville, but if you ever do, just go to Mill Creek Park and you can see one there, too. There are three of them within walking distance of my home, so I live in a veritable Peace Tree forest. If you don’t plan on being in Elgin, or Aumsville, or near my house, you can google them and find a map for one near you.

All of the trees are still pretty small at this point in time, and they aren’t very impressive to look at but, as with Hideko herself, there definitely is something inspiring when you think about what their parent trees lived through and the long journey they made to get where they are. They haven’t been to outer space like my Moon Tree has, but they’ve beaten the odds with their stubborn will to survive, and they’re good things to look at while you contemplate all the crap that life can throw at you. I’d still probably be toast if an atom bomb landed on me. But the rest of it? These trees and I say, “bring it on!”. Actually, that’s just me. Trees can’t talk, remember? And don't bring it on. Just be nice.

Peace out.

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My Lord, I live almost next door to a Peace Tree. Seems to me the Hideko has done something special. Thanks for sharing her story.

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