Authors, naturalists share feelings on trees at Corbett Grange Arbor Day celebration

Corbett resident Apricot Irving grew up in a Christian missionary family.

She moved to Haiti at 6 years old when her father, seeing the effects of colonization, decided to help reforest a barren section of the island republic.

Irving shared details of this experience and others from her memoir, "The Gospel of Trees," as part of an Arbor Day celebration on Friday evening, April 26, at the Corbett Grange, 37493 Grange Hall Road. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford reads poetry to a packed house at the Corbett Grange on Friday, April 26.

Irving believes in the importance of trees and celebrating the importance of trees and healthy vegetation — and not just on Arbor Day.

"I'll quote the book and say that 'it is through trees that the earth breathes,'" she said. "We rely on trees everyday to exist. It's such an easy time of year to really appreciate them with the new leaves just coming on, but all year long I am profoundly grateful that trees exist, because without them we would not exist." PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Attendees at an Arbor Day celebration read a non-religous prayer thanking the Earth for trees outside the Corbett Grange.

"The Gospel of Trees" was awarded the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction on Monday, April 22, at the annual Oregon Book Awards event in Northwest Portland. The Sarah Winnemucca Award honors Oregon writers who work in genres of poetry, fiction, graphic literature, drama, literary nonfiction and literature for young readers.PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Apricot Irving reads from her memoir A Gospel of Trees.

In the portion of Haiti where Irving grew up — as well as the heavily forested areas in the Columbia River Gorge — if trees disappear, the area will become prone to erosion, reduction in moisture retention, and underground aquifers necessary for agricultural irrigation may dry up. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Kim Stafford explains how to read poetry aloud to kids during an event rehearsal.

"I've seen what a landscape looks like devoid of tree cover when it used to have trees," Irving said, "and I've seen the cost that exacts on the people that try to make a living on that land. And I've seen what it looks like when you replant a deforested hillside."

When trees grow back, they provide shade, birds return, and the undergrowth created from the trees beams with life.

"The contrast between life with trees, and life without trees is pretty dramatic," she said.

Closer to home

Irving worried that Corbett's trees, as well as those throughout the Columbia River Gorge, could have disappeared entirely when the Eagle Creek wildfire broke out on Sept. 2, 2017. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Seventh grader Isaiah Irving reads an original poem about trees.

The conflagration began when a 15-year-old Washington boy threw fireworks into the Eagle Creek Canyon and eventually consumed more than 48,000 acres.

Irving wrote a piece for Topic Magazine about the blaze last year, interviewing Gorge residents about their experiences with the fire.

She learned that it burned in a mosaic pattern, sparing many arbors from destruction. The vegetation that burned may have helped wildlife such as woodpeckers, which depend on damaged trees because their beaks can't break through the wood of a healthy tree.

"At its best, fire keeps the ecosystem healthy," Irving said.

Irving was one of many residents who were evacuated from a portion of Corbett east of the community's fire station during the blaze. She remembers feeling heavy winds, the fire's orange glow and ashes falling from the sky.

"It was terrifying," Irving said, "and it felt like we didn't know what would remain of this community."

Corbett bounced back, and nearly two years later, the Corbett Grange is celebrating trees for Arbor Day. PMG PHOTO: MATT DEBOW - Trees were handed out as attendees left the Arbor Day celebration.

"It was very traumatic to watch this beloved place burn, and not knowing what would survive," Irving said. "To have an event like this is a recognition of what can be lost, and (why) we are so lucky to get to keep celebrating."

Poetry and blueberries

At the Arbor Day Celebration, children read original poetry depicting their experiences with trees. Following their presentation, the youths ceded the stage to Kim Stafford, who Gov. Kate Brown named the state's poet laureate in May 2018.

"The governor tasked me with spreading the gospel of poetry," said Stafford, an associate professor at Lewis and Clark University in Portland.

As poet laureate, Stafford traverses the state sharing his creations. He returns to Corbett often for its tasty blueberries.

"It's one of my favorite places in the world," Stafford said of Corbett. "I picked blueberries right up the road here every summer."

Stafford concurred with Irving that trees are necessary for life, and the Grange's celebration was one way to show appreciation. Stafford read poems he authored about Corbett's blueberry field and the community role of Grange halls and concluded the reading with poems about trees.

"I think that trees are trying to save us," Stafford said, "and Arbor Day is a time when we try to save a few trees. It's where we get with our kinfolk: trees, and try to work together to try to save the planet."

About Arbor Day

Arbor Day is an annual holiday that celebrates the role of trees, and promotes tree planting and care. The holiday was first observed in 1872, in Nebraska.

Contact Gresham Outlook Reporter Matt DeBow at 503-492-5115, or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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