Trees of hope

In 2018, Susan and I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima in the southern part of the main island of Japan. It was a kind of a pilgrimage for us to visit the place where in 1945, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured by the explosion of an atomic bomb over the heart of the city. These days Hiroshima is a strikingly beautiful city, filled with trees and green space, due in part to an international effort to send trees to the city following the devastation of the bomb. Cities and groups of people from around the world donated tree seedlings that were given to help the city develop green space as it rebuilt from the incredible devastation following the blast. The day that we had to walk around the peace park at the center of the city was very warm and we were grateful for the shade and cooling of the many trees that are growing there and we were impressed with the care and attention that was given to the trees.

As is usually the case, there is even more to that story.

At 8:15 in the morning, on August 6, 1945, the bomb was dropped. It exploded, as designed, approximately 2,000 feet above the city. Virtually every living thing in Hiroshima was burned. Very little survived at all within the one mile radius of the epicenter. Within that tight radius was a garden. It remains to this day. But after the blast there was no color left in Hiroshima. There was only black, white and gray. Everything was covered in dust from the devastation. The rumors in the city was that nothing would grow in the blast area ever again. The heat had sterilized the soil. The trees that remained in the garden looked like sticks of charcoal standing with no branches, blackened, yet till standing. But over the year to come, one some of the trees, buds emerged. The green buds provided hope to the people who had barely survived the blast and who were struggling to find any sign of hope in a grief-filled world of death and destruction. It turned out that hundreds of trees, though broken and badly charred, survived and regained their health. The tremendous blast functioned like an earthquake to loosen and aerate the soil around the trees’ roots allowing moisture to penetrate the parched soil. The ash that was all around provided nutrients that the trees needed. In a city that was totally devastated, before any rebuilding was possible, the green of those buds was so amazing that people kept coming just to look at the one bit of color in the place.

Today there are hundreds of survivor trees in Hiroshima. They are now surrounded by the trees of donors from around the world. They are called Hibaku Jumoku. Fewer trees survived in Nagasaki, but there are approximately 50 Hibaku Jumoku in that city as well.

Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe co-founded a project called Green Legacy Hiroshima, which sends seedlings from the survivor tree around the world, usually to places that have suffered natural disasters such as severe storms or earthquakes, but sometimes to places that have witnessed a nuclear disaster. There message is a bit of hope in a world that seems sorely in need of that hope. Like those first green buds that appeared in the gray, black and white world of Hiroshima after the blast, the survivor trees can be planted in places of destruction to give hope to those who have survived.

Perhaps it is an unfair comparison to think of our current situation in the midst of a world pandemic to the survivors of a nuclear blast. We certainly are no where near the epicenter of the pandemic. Our hospital has not yet been taxed. We have not yet seen mass illness and deaths of many. We have been spared the brunt of the illness so far. There is much that is yet to come and we will need to practice our distancing and do what we can to slow the spread of the disease for some time yet - perhaps months. But I sense that our people are already in need of signs of hope.

Trees and other plants have incredible power go renew hope. Walking in the forest yesterday, I was so grateful for the trees that were shielding us from strong winds that were whipping across our area. I was also grateful for the abundant basque flowers that are blooming despite snowstorm after snowstorm this spring. These resilient plants continue to survive when others might not make it. I am told that the root bass of ponderosa pine and black hills spruce trees are relatively shallow. They stand and survive strong winds because they grow next to one another. The roots of one tree intertwine with those of the trees next to it so that a cluster of trees can stand where a lone tree would be blown over. Yesterday’s winds were probably not enough to blow down healthy trees, but we see much higher winds on occasion and we have seen storms that have flattened many trees.

On Monday we hiked in the southern hills, near an area that experienced a huge fire a few years ago. In the midst of the stands of blackened and fallen trees were a few survivors, who continue to stand tall and green when others perished in the fire. All around us we see the power of trees and other plants to give us signs of hope.

So I will continue to preach a gospel of hope in the midst of a world pandemic. It is the message that I have tried to proclaim for all of my career, made even more relevant in a time of separation and worry and fear.

The days we are living are not the end of the story of humans on this planet. God is still at work in our world and in our lives. We are a people who belong to a future as much as we belong to our past.

Maybe we need to plant more trees.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!