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‘Only God can make a tree’

I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.”
This poem by Joyce Kilmer crossed my mind as I drove down West Omaha Street today and saw the stumps of the once beautiful trees sticking up from the ground.
Some of those trees were already old when I was a boy, and me and my friends used to stop and rest under their branches on those hot summer days when we were hiking to swim at Canyon Lake.
New pipes are being laid along Omaha Street and those old trees are just a casualty of progress.
Many years ago the City Engineer was a man named Freddie White Face. His daughter Charmaine used to run with my cousins and so we often showed up at Freddie’s house to listen to him play the saxophone and enjoy the sandwiches his wife Pearl always made for us.
Freddie had a personal philosophy that he would never destroy anything of natural beauty in order to modernize things in the city he loved. Of course, as a city employee, he had to go against his own wishes in order to work with the City Council. Oftentimes they didn’t share his vision.
One day Freddie got a call from Elijah Whirlwind Horse who had just been elected as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Elijah asked Freddie to be his Administrative Assistant and he accepted and left Rapid City. A week or so later Freddie called me and said he needed a Public Relations person and offered me the job. I accepted it and went to work for Freddie and Elijah.
A few days after I was hired the Sergeant at Arms of the Tribe, Jump Big Crow, dashed down to the enrollment office to check me out and much to his surprised that not only was I an enrolled member of the Tribe, but I was also his cousin. Jump is no longer with us, but he was one of the great ones.
A few years ago the cottonwood trees that were once so huge and beautiful along the banks of Rapid Creek shed so much cotton that the streets of the city looked like they had been hit by a summer snow storm. Someone wrote a note to the local newspaper suggesting that all of the trees should be cut down.
We had already lost hundreds of the beautiful tress that made Rapid City so special back then. And now more of the trees were being demolished. Housing projects were being built where trees used to stand. Many of the cottonwood and pine trees in North Rapid vanished in the wake of a new shopping mall.
I suppose that if a city is to grow and prosper, the thing that Freddie White Face feared the most was bound to happen. Nature’s beauty was replaced by concrete.
In 1914 Joyce Kilmer envisioned this very thing when he gazed at the beauty of a tree and wrote;
A tree that may in summer wear,
A nest of robins in her hair,
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Kilmer would have shed tears if he saw the trees cut down on Omaha Street. Because he really believed that “only God can make a tree.”

(Contact Tim Giago at Tim was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association)

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