Sunday, August 2, 2009

A tree grows in Waco

A newcomer experiences several "oh, wow" moments in Waco.

Oh, wow. The lake. Oh, wow. The Waco Suspension Bridge against the ALICO.

One of my first oh-wow moments came looking out from the top floor of the Hillcrest Medical Tower.

"Oh, wow. Look at all the trees."

You may not think of Waco's trees — or their numbers — in superlatives. You may just think that, well, this is Central Texas. It has them.

The place from where I came 25 years ago didn't. The arid San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado has mountains on both sides. It has sage. It has sand dunes. But birds have to fight over what trees it has.

Relative to arboreal challenges, Waco really didn't appear to need our help when my family came here. Fortunately my wife, who was raised in that arid valley, didn't ask. She just did.

Plant trees.

Like a coin in my pocket, since my teen years I've carried with me a not-verbalized credo, something like: You are powerless only if you think you are. You can change the world.

Most of us never realize or appreciate our power. We reserve our awe for the most powerful, the ones who hire public relations arms.

But look at what my wife did. For one, she helped transform a public place. Twenty years ago she was PTA president at Meadowbrook Elementary School, a place whose playground was little more than a blacktop and some chin-up bars.

That was unacceptable to her, with two boys on their grade-school journey. She did something about it. The PTA raised money for a shiny yellow playground set, a slide, a rope climb, and installed it with volunteer labor. That was just a start. The next year the half-globe shape of a sprawling jungle gym arose on a bed of pea gravel. Then a bench went in for teachers or parents to observe the fun.

It needed one more thing: shade for that bench. So under Becky's leadership, the PTA planted a row of saplings, each in honor of a retiring teacher.

They grew. The intended shade reached the bench. By then our children had advanced through school and into college.

Becky kept planting trees — a silver maple in the front yard, a cypress, a crepe myrtle, a pecan that I gave her for Mother's Day.

We inherited a towering Arizona ash that shelters our home. It will be highly valued by the next residents. One day, though, age and gravity will overtake it. When it does, that pecan will be up to the task.

I could exhaust more column inches about how my wife changed the world and Waco, but most of the ways are non-headline stuff — raising two smart kids, treating stray animals like royalty.

Yes, the world is ours for changing. Our power is infinite, at least within the handy equation: A little bit of something is infinitely more than nothing. Let's all commit ourselves to something.

Waco didn't know it needed more trees. It took a newcomer to figure differently.

Former Trib opinion editor John Young and his family are moving to Fort Collins, Colo., where he will teach and write. See his future columns at E-mail:

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