Planting Forest Here to Celebrate Life

Planting Forest Here to Celebrate Life

I grew up in a small village in northeast France, where thick forests of pine trees, weeping willows, oaks and fragrant linden trees were everywhere. 

My grandparents moved there from Luxembourg, bought a small piece of land and built their family home. They started a large garden on the other half of the land they had bought, which was located on the other side of a small river running along the back side of the house. 

Kids got married and had children. With the birth of every grandchild, a tree was planted in the garden. Almost 50 years later, most of these trees remain. 

Twenty years ago, I moved from Paris to the Bay Area. When my son was a year old, I moved to Alameda and bought a small fig tree of my son’s age. After a couple of moves, the tree was planted in our backyard. Now more than 6 feet tall, it has outgrown everything around it, just like my son.

Planting trees when children are born is an incredibly powerful ritual to celebrate life. And so is the reverse: planting a tree when someone you love, just died. 

When my mother-in-law died a few years ago, a friend gifted us with planting trees in the Chippewa Forest of Minnesota. After that, I decided planting trees was going to be my ritual, in lieu of the traditional flower arrangement. 

There is something deeply comforting in passing on the memory of someone you love to another living being. In the process, one gets to turn someone’s death into a new life. The idea is so simple it’s hard to believe it is not part of our common practices. Instead, we buy flowers — they die. It’s like we double down on the passing. When we plant a tree instead, we get to channel the memory of a person and celebrate their life. All life.

Lately, it seems grief has taken on a new meaning. It encapsulates not only the loss of lives but also the loss of a lifestyle and our freedoms. Celebration is now found in simple joys, like helping neighbors, making bread or planting seeds. Who hasn’t felt the urge to put their hands into soil, and give life to growing something good lately? 

A few months ago, I joined a local tree planting initiative: 100K Trees for Humanity. The project intends to preserve mature trees and plant new ones. Today, the idea of planting trees has gained new meaning and power. Planting a tree helps us through so many layers of grief and joy and hope, just as it provides a venue for self care. So here is a thought: what if we created a grove, or several, to celebrate the life of those we love? Babies being born, people passing. 

What if we used sites that are currently unused? Doolittle Landfill, aka Mount Trashmore, being one possibility. The dream is within reach. Working with the Parks and Recreation Department and the City of Alameda, we can plant a forest of trees to celebrate life on the landfill site and secure the infrastructure to irrigate the trees. We can dedicate stewards to care for the trees with 100K Trees, enable families who can easily fund the purchase of the trees to plant and support local nurseries in doing so.

By planting trees now, we honor all life and that of the people we cherish. We also restore habitat, enrich the soil, provide shade and capture carbon from the air. 

We also bring back what used to be the essence of Alameda when it used to be one of the nation’s largest coast live oak forests. Now, more than ever, is that time to plant a tree, to plant a forest for life.


Ingrid Ballmann is an Alameda resident.