Oklahoma City Elm Tree

Today's blog is a guest post from my friend, Pam Bergstrom, National Technical Assistance Agroforester who works for the Nebraska Forest Service  and the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lincoln, Nebraska. She shared these thoughts in one of her newsletters, and granted me permission to share it.

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Do you remember where you were on April 19, 1995? I was a sixth grader at Plainview Elementary School in Plainview, Nebraska and I was playing soccer at noon recess when I heard there was a bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

 There are moments that live with you forever and I will always remember my parents talking to me and my brother about what was going on in Oklahoma City that April day and the days after. We have family in and around Oklahoma City, but they were nowhere near the federal building that day. Others were not so lucky.

This is the story about a survivor of the Oklahoma City Bombing—a survivor that still lives and its progeny now represent hope for the future and in humanity across the United States of America. This survivor still carries the wounds of the bombing and has shrapnel embedded deep inside. I am talking about the Oklahoma City Survivor Tree.

 The Oklahoma City Survivor Tree is an American Elm that is estimated to be over 100 years old. Before the bombing, this American Elm was the only shade tree for blocks around and during the heat of the summer, employees of the federal building would get in early to ensure they could park under the shade provided by the massive branches. Many past employees still talk about the “race” every morning to get a spot during the hottest days of summer.

 On April 20, 1995, the tree was almost cut down because debris and evidence were embedded deep inside and the only way to get at the evidence was to bring the whole tree down. Arborists and urban foresters were brought in to see if there was a way to retrace the evidence without damaging the tree. After doing some intensive pruning and pulling out materials from the trunk, the tree was left standing, but it was not in good shape. The summer of 1995 was hard on the American Elm and it lost most of its leaves by July.

 On the one-year anniversary of the bombing, the survivor tree hadn’t shown any signs of life and was slated to be removed so the construction of the memorial would be taking shape soon overtop of the American Elm. That morning, a group of people were encircling the tree for a moment of silence and prayer when someone looked up and found buds and leaves growing on the limbs! The tree had survived and was starting to come out of dormancy. The tree was not cut down, but rather the new memorial was designed to be built around this American Elm.

 Every year, seeds are collected from the tree and grown into seedlings by nurseries across the state of Oklahoma. On the anniversary of the bombing, each year, those seedlings are given out to people to plant in communities throughout the country as a sign of hope for peace and unity. These seedlings are planted in big urban areas to small towns and everywhere in-between. Some seedlings are given to individuals and planted on private property as well.

 This American Elm has also battled Dutch Elm Disease and won, has withstood construction of the memorial around its massive roots, and dealt with the unforgiving elements on the Oklahoma prairie. The Oklahoma City Survivor Tree is a symbol of optimism and perseverance during dark, troubled times.

 If you ever make it to Oklahoma City, take a side trip to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Take a minute to sit under the branches of the oldest survivor of the bombing on April 19, 1995, and find inner peace and hope in the future.

#oklahomacity #survivortree  #americanelm #nevergiveup

Photos from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

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