A friend recently read my debut historical fiction mid-grade, A Bird on Water Street, and said, “… one of my very, very favorite scenes was with the maple tree at Rock City and how Jack touches it and feels it hum and thinks the experience is holy. Simply beautiful! I love that scene.”
It reminded me of why I wrote it. When I was a kid, I used to claim my best friends were trees. I would lie underneath them and “talk” to them. I swore I could feel their spirits. At the very least, I felt they had a language; it was spoken by the wind gently blowing through their leaves. And I was plugged into that—I could hear it.
As an adult, I sadly lost the ability to hear the language of trees. I spent years hiking and living in the woods, trying to get that feeling back—that feeling of being connected to all things, to trees. Every now and then when I’m extremely relaxed, I can get a sense of it again, especially on a quiet and beautiful day. But mostly, I miss the sensation and I think it’s partly why A Bird on Water Street is so important to me.
It’s because I think most adults have lost that feeling of connection to the environment. As a result, people don’t respect our natural resources. They don’t recycle or they use too much electricity and water, or they produce too much garbage, because they don’t think one person can really make a difference or have a serious impact on the environment.
And yet, that is the path that led to the devastation of the environment in Copperhill, Tennessee. Over a century of miners using every tree in sight to fuel the smelting heaps, which separated the copper and chemicals from the mined ore, left 50-square-miles of the southern Appalachians completely denuded. There were no trees, no birds, no bugs; nothing was left except for the people who lived there. If the people had felt that connection to the environment, to the trees they cut down, perhaps they would have done things differently, in a more sustainable, less damaging way. I like to think so.
There is reason to believe man has it in him to be more mindful, because today, most of the denuded landscape of Copperhill and the surrounding areas has been reforested. Some of the most severely damaged areas have been turned into wetlands, where grasses and reeds act as nature’s filtration system to return the environment to a more natural ecosystem. Trees are back, and I like to believe that people are starting to listen to them.
Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning author/illustrator of two dozen titles, Illustrator Coordinator for the southern region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book, and Visiting Associate Professor in the Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books program at Hollins University. A Bird on Water Street is her first novel. Visit www.dulemba.com or www.ABirdOnWaterStreet.com to learn more.