My "Tree" Day II
Bill Long 7/19/07
The Hatfield Ginkgo Tree and A Few Others
Time would fail me if I mentioned everything about every tree I visited today. But some trees were memorable, especially the "Hatfield Ginkgo Tree." Well, you might be forgiven for not knowing about the "Hatfield Ginkgo Tree." It is named after Gov. (and later U.S. Senator) Mark Hatfield, who just celebrated his 85th birthday last week. But this tree is the only monument in the state of Oregon with his name on it that has nothing to do with money he got or set aside for the state; indeed, this tree reflects money that he kept from paying to someone.
Now that I have caught your attention, I will tell you how I came across this unmarked tree of some significance. It appears on the Oregon Heritage Trees web site, but its precise street address isn't given. One web site has it at the corner of Chemeketa and Summer St. in Salem, near the Public Services Building. So I headed there, even though another web site says it was near the Oregon Labor and Industries Building on the Capitol Mall. Well, near the Public Services Building I ran into a gardener, whom I asked about the location of the tree.
Oregon has probably the most educated and dedicated state workers I have ever known, and this man was no exception. Actually, when I asked him the location of the tree, he rolled his eyes and said, "Do you REALLY want to know about the politics of that tree?" And then I realized what I knew to be true in life, that if you just keeping asking innocent questions, you will be thrown into the middle of a hornet's nest every time. I told him that I simply wanted to know where the tree was--and he pointed me in the direction of the Labor and Industries Building (near the corner of Winter and Center St). But then the man volunteered to me that he was the author of the brochure/guide to the trees on the State Capitol grounds, and he made arrangements to get me the brochure. Quite amazing, right? (He also, before I left, gave me a little "quiz" on flowers. He wanted to know what I thought the green plant next to the hydrangeas was. What did I think would go perfectly with hydrangeas in the setting of a large public garden? I confessed I had no idea, and he reluctantly told me it was a "hardy hibiscus." Now you know, too! They bloom bright pink in early August. I can scarcely wait to return to the garden to see them).
Heading Off In Search of the Hatfield Ginkgo Tree
So, I went off in the direction of the L & I Building, about 400 yards away. I looked at the trees surrounding this building, but there was no designation on any of them that it was a historic tree. Emboldened by my success with one state employee, I decided to go into the L & I Building and talk to the receptionist. Did she know where the Hatfield Ginkgo Tree was? It was as if I had delivered a quick blow to her solar plexus. She said she never heard of it. An expression of panic crossed her face, as if I was the first person to have stumped her in several years. But she had me wait, and soon she was calling secretaries and others throughout the building to see if they knew. No response. I told her I would venture back to the trees myself to see if I could find it. After all, the Ginkgo has the most distinctive fan-shaped bi-lobed leaves of any tree--how difficult, then, could it be to find it? I went outside to the NE corner of the building, and found a tree that seemed to fit the description. I tore off a leaf (by the end of the day my pockets had about two dozen leaves in them--I scatter them on my living room floor when I get home and look up pictures of leaves on the Internet so that I can fix firmly in my mind the difference, for example, between a dogwood and a crabapple leaf..) and returned to my friend, the receptionist. By the time I returned someone was faxing her something from deep in the bowels of state government, and another very official-looking person with headset was standing at the desk with her to greet me. They had the "Oregon Heritage Commission" on the line, and they were going to get the answer to my question. Well, finally, we got it all straightened out, and I recommended to the Heritage Commission that they mark the tree. The receptionists now were delighted, and I am sure that the first thing they told their husbands upon arriving home tonight was where the Hatfield Ginkgo Tree was.
The Rest of the Story
But we still don't yet know why the tree is named after Mark Hatfield. He has no Chinese or Japanese blood, nor did the citizens of these lands recognize his friendship towards them by dedicating a tree in his honor. The story goes that when Hatfield was governor (1959-67), Oregon expanded its state government considerably, creating the large and attractive Capitol Mall across Court Street to the North from the State Capitol. One of the buildings added was the Labor & Industries Building, built on the grounds of one of the noted McNary family members of Salem. The ginkgo tree was already thriving on the McNary property, and Hatfield wanted to make sure that the construction of the L & I building didn't endanger the tree. But how could he make sure? Well, as the story goes, he ordered payment for the construction of the building withheld for one year after completion of the project so that he could be sure that the tree was really still alive after the project was done. Thus, Hatfield here got his name on something because he held back on paying money.
Now that I have heard this story, I think I like the Senator not just for his anti-Viet Name war inclinations or his peacenik positions in the 1980s but even more for his efforts to save a tree. It lives now courtesy of him. And we, the citizens of Oregon, are beneficiaries of it--as long as we can find the tree!
Finishing the Day
There is a story behind nearly every tree I stopped to look at today. Why, for example, are there about 60 comparatively rare silver linden trees planted in a three block stretch on 23rd Avenue SE just off State Street in Salem? These beauties give that stretch of streed a shadiness that is unmatched in Salem. Someone must have decided on planting them here, and almost nowhere else, in Salem. Why?
Then, topping that off, there is a stand of more than 100 Oregon White Oaks across the street from the Jackman-Long building at the Oregon State Fair on 17th Ave. NE. About 90 of the trees (I half-heartedly counted them all) are on one side of the tracks with around 10 on the other. How do we account for all of these?
Then, there are the eight spreading sycamore trees, the pride and joy of the Marion County Courthouse on High St. in Salem. They don't exactly ring the courthouse; they are on the south and north sides. Tell me more about the sycamores...
Finally, I concluded my day with a trip north to Willamette Mission State Park north of Keizer, OR, the original place of Jason Lee's 1834 Mission (Methodist) settlement in Oregon. About 30 or so yards east of the Willamette Lake, as it is known (an arm of the Willamette River that cuts east of the River. I understand that this lake was the original channel of the Willamette) stands the tallest black cottonwood tree in the nation. It dwarfs the rest of the trees around it, like a mother hen with all of her chicks gathered around. I walked up to the tree, putting my fingers in its deep furrows, realizing that the tree was probably a young tree when this country declared its independence from Britian 231 years ago. What lessons that tree could tell, I thought. But then, as I drove home, I realized that the trees had taught me quite a few lessons already today...