Forest People Stories
On May 29, 2018, the Community Resilience Guild hosted local writer, educator, storyteller, and city forester Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley to launch “Wide Angle Films and Talks”. The event explored different aspects of Goshen’s identity as the Maple City through a variety of videos, information, and conversation.
Watch the Full Video:
We began the evening by inviting Aaron to share some of his personal story of growing up and staying in the community.
“It was a story that I was writing about not wanting to grow up; not wanting to leave home; not wanting to leave my neighborhood; my friends — I wanted to climb up into that tree and stay there. … the years between beginning to write that story and realizing who it was about were the years in which in which I stumbled into urban forestry and into the vocation that has become so important to me with the storytelling and the writing on the side.”
(how a writer became a forester)
Staying around included forming “Double Barrel Darrel” with a group of friends. This track off the band’s first album reflects Aaron’s connection and affection for place.
Staying in Goshen
“I have these memories of walking through the snow on a winter night, and the steam that’s coming up out of these factories — and thinking to myself this is weirdly beautiful; this is weirdly attractive to me; I don’t want to work in that factory, but this is an interesting place to be…”
(preserving a connection to place)
In the Ground
Putting down unexpected roots
“I came down the hill on the other side and there was a sign that said ‘ten acres for sale’ and I came to a halt in the driveway, and I looked in that driveway and there is a little farmhouse there and behind it there was a tangle of of woods … I was writing in the evening, but I saw that sign, and I saw that place, and all of the lights went on…”
(how a property became a home)
“I began to explore … encountering plants that I didn’t know or understand, trees that I didn’t know or understand…”
(learning lessons from the land)
A succession of trees and vocation
“I started learning about transplanting trees; how small, how big I could manage; some failing, some succeeding; and that was that was how I began to think about trees — not as not as vocation by any means, but as something that was worthy of my interest.”
“This land taught me about trees … and that’s the reason that I have the job that I have.”
“We are forest people”
One of Aaron’s projects that inspired this event is his evolving “Trees and Civic Identity” presentation connecting the revitalization of Goshen’s downtown with the City’s legacy of tree care and plantings and its ongoing identity as the Maple City. This excerpt touches on the meaning and sentiment behind the title for this Wide Angle event.
Throughout the evening we explored the many interconnections between Aaron’s work and the broader community.
Educating Forest People
“We have a steadily growing program with with kids coming to the Reith Center, and we take them out into the woods and talk about what a forest is and how it works.”
(field trips and other interactions with local schools)
We were pleased to highlight the many unique talents Aaron brings to his work. His creative energy and love of kids have enabled him to go the extra mile when it comes to education — such as making this instructional video for the Chamberlain Elementary curriculum and organizing the annual Goshen Arbor Day celebration.
“The trick with urban forestry … as I interpret it, is how to get people and trees to work together — to live together thoughtfully.”
(how forestry depends on relationships between people and trees, which enhance relationships between people)
Engaging local media
“We were awarded a tree planting grant to help replace many ash trees that were lost, and an important component of that was some sort of media component to help all of us understand why it’s important to replace these trees … and that became an eye-opening experience for me about engaging local media.”
(how a grant engaged local media to help tell a broader narrative about our forests)
A systems perspective
“those videos helped me to see what we were demonstrating was that trees have these connection points throughout our community in some really remarkable ways.”
(connecting the dots to see the forest in new ways)
Encountering a legacy of nut trees
“it was just gorgeous to hear this 92 year old man talk with such reverence about these trees that he’d been working with all these years.”
(stumbling into relationships and encountering ripples of stories)
the elm tree at Kunderd Road
Resilience Lost – the Story of an Elm
“Dutch elm disease is what kills them, and it’s what I expect to happen to elms. … I arrived at Mr. Lindhorn’s house and I stood under this gigantic elm tree, just flabbergasted that it was there — and it was so healthy and so alive.”
(what the Maple City can learn from a miraculous elm)
“we are at the point now where the City needs to kind of gather up all of these pieces and look at how they work together — how they fit in relationship to each other — and how we as a community can decide how best to use these resources.”
(preparing for an unknown future)
The social art of tree care
“I wasn’t trying to tell them ‘no, it can’t come down.’ But I was trying to help them see this tree in a different light, and I wanted to hear what their experience of it was.”
(how listening to stories can inspire empathy for trees)
We wrapped up the evening looking at the big picture of how Goshen’s urban forest contributes to community resilience.
“it became an opportunity to begin replanting with non maple, non ash species, which is important because if we’ve dodged three bullets so far – chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer — then the only way to be prepared for whatever may come for maple is to diversify what we have.”
(using calamity to build a more resilient tree canopy)