I met Nancy eleven months ago when I went on a Creativity Retreat. Unlike a majority of the women there, she wasn’t quilting, nor was she sewing or scrapbooking.
I was curious about her creative pursuits and walked over to meet her.
Nancy MacKerrow keeps a daily journal, writing a few lines about her experiences that day and then sketching out something that spoke to her artistic heart. I was impressed by her talent and her determination to not allow the days to pass unheeded. But Nancy doesn’t just keep a journal; she also creates miniatures that make me wish I could have had her for a grandmother. (I would have had a fabulous dollhouse!) She showed me the walls and windows that she had just set aside in favor of her ultimate labor of love.
While cutting strips of brown paper bags — strips that will become tags to hang on trees — Nancy told me about the trees that she began planting after the tragic and untimely death of her daughter, Susie, at the age of 36.
The tree tags are biodegradable, made from paper shopping bags, written upon by people at the tree plantings, then hung on the branches of the tree for all to see. Time and weather fade the written wishes and eventually the tags will disintegrate but the thoughts remain as the trees grow.
Time has taken the roughest raw edges from grief, but pain is still clearly evident in Nancy’s voice when she talks of losing her daughter. I spoke with Nancy again this past Saturday.
Susie Stephens, an activist for the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists, was killed in 2002 — while legally crossing the street in a crosswalk — when she was hit by a bus in St. Louis, Missouri. The tragic irony is not lost on me.
What began as a single memorial tree to be planted in Susie’s honor rapidly became a project with a purpose for retired librarian Nancy MacKerrow. She has found comfort and purpose planting trees in Spokane, Washington, and around the world in an initiative known as the Susie Forest and described in her website of the same name (http://susieforest.com/).
Nancy says, “The good that has come after Susie’s death is that I have found a purpose and joy in life even without her. I feel her presence at every tree planting, and she lives on in this good work.”
She added, “Once I began planting trees I didn’t want to stop.”
In one of her articles, Nancy describes a plaque with these words:
Dedicated to Susie Stephens
4/16/65 – 3/21/02
whose work and joyful enthusiasm moved people to positive action.
I would add that those words also describe her mother, Nancy MacKerrow.
That “forest” of trees has grown from a one-woman project to honor and memorialize her daughter, by planting trees on her birth date and death date, to a world-wide planting of trees for a variety of occasions including memorial trees, birthday trees, retirements, and reforestation projects. This isn’t just a passing phase for Nancy MacKerrow; she has been busily planting and dedicating trees every year since 2003. In 2011 alone, there were 111 trees planted for the Susie Forest! These trees are not only planted in Spokane or Washington State. There are Susie Forest trees in Japan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan, and Iran. In early August of this year, a Susie Tree was planted in Ottawa, Canada.
I’m hoping that one of my Canadian friends will visit Sherry Lane Park in Ottawa to take pictures of the Susie Tree there. Please let me know if you do!
I have searched out and photographed Susie Trees in two of our local city parks, plus a Susie Tree near the library where Nancy formerly worked, but there are many, many more trees for me to find.
[click to embiggen any picture]
You can find Susie Trees all over the world.
If you are interested in planting a tree for the Susie Forest in your area, please contact Nancy at TheSusieForest@hotmail.com
To find out more information, you can check out the Susie Forest website or facebook page. Additionally, this link will take you to an article that Nancy MacKerrow wrote for an urban forestry website.