“Tree Planting in the Swamps,” a Poem by Reverend Seamus Doyle

03.01.2018 | In Community & Events, Faith
By Reverend Seamus Doyle, St. John's Episcopal Church

I first came to Louisiana from Ireland in 1974 and fell in love with the people, the food and the land. Over the next forty years, I have travelled most of the USA and lived for stretches in various places; but my heart was in Louisiana, and finally I returned home.

Reverend Seamus Doyle planting trees in Manchac.

Some years ago, I read “Bayou Farewell” by Mike Tidwell and felt a great sadness for the loss of the land, for the forced migration of communities. It is easy to become angry at how this loss all came about by well-meaning people (corporations), but we now have to do something to mitigate the situation.

When I learned of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation tree planting project, I knew that this was something I could get into and planned a volunteer day for youth from three Episcopal churches along with the clergy and youth leadership.

On Saturday, February 17th, eighteen youth from 6th to 12th grade (including two youth from Honduras who are studying here) and adults put on work clothes and headed to the swamp in Manchac. After a demonstration of how to plant the trees, we loaded up the sleds and headed out working in teams of two or three.

The majority of the youth had never done anything like this and, when it was all over, there was a feeling of satisfaction as they looked across the land that, a few hours earlier, had no trees and was now home to 566. I was asked more than once, “Can we do this again?” and “This was a great idea,” said others.

For my part, it was an interesting day for one at my age and unsteady of balance. The soft ground brought memories of digging turf with my uncle in Ireland. There is something sensuous about this land. It has a beauty all of its own and its own aroma.

The following day, the memory of participating in the ongoing creation of the earth, of saving a piece of land for future generations continued to wander through my mind and my attempt to capture it resulted in the poem below.

Tree Planting in the Swamps..

With sole on shovel I bowed
with respect to the land and
felt the web of grasses rip apart
like a surgeon’s knife exposing
the lungs of the swamp which
gasped a sucking final intake of
air as the soil split open, water
pooled in the gullet, oxygen
laden bubbles danced for the
new tree descending into the
exposed earth in which the roots
will weave a path into the marsh,
bind it together against the rising
water and storm, saving the coastline,
and the creatures of the wild will soon
awake and learn to adapt to their
new environment of five hundred and
sixty-four trees and more planted
while they hibernated.

(C) Seamus P. Doyle.

Like the youth, I look forward to another day of tree planting, knowing that this small action by a few people across the swamp may not save everything. However, every small positive action we do to protect this beautiful coastline means that we are committed to preserving our heritage for generations to come. I strongly believe what these youth (and many others at other times) did in planting trees will create a barrier to the wind, slow down the surging water, and give a new home to our sentient brothers and sisters who call this place their home.

If your church, synagogue, mosque or temple would like to schedule a field trip, presentation or volunteer day, please contact Helen Rose Patterson via email at PattersonH@nwf.org.