Some readers might remember my father, the Rev. Ron Barham, who served as the pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church from 1995 to 1999, the years I was in college at Millsaps. He contributed wild game recipes, outdoors articles, and other words to this publication.
After he died suddenly in 2008, one of the ways I continue to connect with him is through those words as well as the ones he wrote for the weekly St. Luke newsletter.
It’s not possible to describe my father in a few words, but he was a jack of all trades: carpenter, historian, counselor, pastor, writer, cook, and champion of wild spaces, of waters and anything that swam in them, and of every kind of critter (with little distinction in appreciation for beautiful ones and tasty ones). I am his daughter to my core, sharing many of his interests, and I join ranks of Methodist ministers, family members, and friends when I sometimes find myself asking, “What would Ron Barham do?”
After the devastating tornado that damaged St. Luke church and ripped through streets with names familiar to me, I knew that I had encountered a rare absolute answer to that question: plant trees.
Every year for decades, my father would procrastinate on all sorts of necessary duties in order to drive to Georgia to pick up hundreds of seedlings which he gave as Christmas presents to everyone from church members to hunting buddies to complete strangers. He probably planted some on property that he had no business being on.
Statistically, it’s highly likely that several of the trees he planted in Tupelo, now growing for almost two decades, perished in the tornado. I know that he would have been outdoors with a shovel as soon as the debris was cleared, rebuilding the canopy that makes Tupelo such a beautiful place.
One of the last tangible (in fact, edible) gifts my father gave me was a large bag of dried bay leaves. He giddily proclaimed to anyone who would listen that these were the new growth, the first leaves from trees on the Coast that had been damaged by the salty storm surge from Hurricane Katrina but had survived. He also took red maple seedlings down to the Coast to help reforest after the hurricane.
Planting a tree is a symbol of hope for the future. Plant a seedling with a child, and watch the astonishment in her face when she comes back from college and insists on taking a picture with a mature tree.
Get a church group or a group of neighbors together and have a planting party; you can document the trees’ growth from year to year. Plant some that grow fast, but by all means plant some big oaks that you will not live to see in their old age. Someone will, and squirrels 200 years from now will bury their acorns and make more trees.
Visit www.arborday.org, contact the Extension Service, or just start asking around. You’ll be glad for years to come.
Rachel Evangeline Barham is a freelance classical singer in Washington, D.C., with her husband James Rogers. She works at the music library at The Catholic University of America and holds a leadership position in her church, The Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal), three blocks from the White House. Even in the city, she finds ample places to stare at trees until an interesting bird appears.