The Trail Steward

The Trail Steward

Sitting on a bench in my beloved South Whidbey State Park, I was happy to be hiking again. Just 3 weeks after a partial knee replacement I was not moving fast, but I was relishing the return to my weekly medicine walks. Several old growth red cedar trees towered above me. Fern and salal plants were shoulder height and dense. The sanctuary of the forest surrounded me.

Ann at South Whidbey State Park’s old growth cedar

Within minutes of sitting there, a young family came by to admire the old cedar tree in front of me. The family paused to greet me and then the eight-year-old boy asked his father if he could go crawl into the hollowed out core of the ancient cedar tree.

The tree opening that the young boy wanted to explore

“Just a minute,” said the father. “We need to read the sign posted on the fence that protects this tree.”

The father read the sign to his son, wife, and newborn.

Please stand back. This tree needs protection. This ancient western red cedar is over 500 years old. During the 1970s under the organization ‘Save the Trees’ Harry and Meryl Wilbert and other dedicated citizens of South Whidbey, literally wrapped themselves around this and other old growth trees along this trail to save them from logging. Their efforts succeeded in annexing 255 acres of forest to South Whidbey State Park.

The old cedar now calls us back to the spirit of protection: this time people need to stop playing on or in the hollow of its trunk. Unless we all admire this ancient giant from a distance, the tree will die long before its time.”


Sign with the story of the old cedar tree

 I could see that the young boy was fidgety with the long reading. “But can I go and climb in the tree, Dad? I’ll be really careful.”

“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said the father. “The sign was put here to help us understand why no one should climb in and around the tree.”

I could not resist saying something. “Well done, Dad.”

The mom, who was standing close to me with her swaddled newborn, asked, “Are you a volunteer in the park?”

“Yes, I live nearby and visit often. You might call me a trail steward. Nineteen years ago I helped place that sign there because so many people were crawling in and out of the tree with little thought for what was happening to the tree itself.””

“Well, it’s really good to meet you. We’re from Seattle and have never been here before. We’re learning a lot.”

We all bid one another goodbye. After they left, I kept sitting a while longer. Nineteen years ago I was sitting in the same spot watching two young boys from the campground crawl in and out of the tree hitting the opening with sticks to make it larger. I, of course, asked them to stop. “Please don’t hurt that tree,” I had said. After they scurried away, it occurred to me that they didn’t know any better and that an educational sign might prevent further damage.

Trails and forests everywhere need stewards, and those of us who are frequent visitors can help educate newcomers in nature. A conversation here, a small action there—the natural world needs all of our attentiveness.

Ann and her constant trail companion, Gracie the corgi



13 replies
  1. linette
    linette says:

    It is so true Ann,
    I often have conversations with the dog owners who let their dogs run into the dunes and young people who “surf” down the fragile dunes near my home. I explain that the birds that nest in the sand frighten easily and abandon their nests and that the plants that hold the dunes together are not strong and need our help. Without those explanations people would not know. It is easy to equate ignorance with laziness. So much better to have the conversation about the rich history and spread some information.
    So good to hear you are out and about after an operation. All my love, Linette X

  2. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Lovely story, Ann! And blessings to that new knee, that you might walk the trail for many years more!

  3. Mary Jefferies
    Mary Jefferies says:

    I would call you a Tree Angel, Ann. Glad to hear that the surgery went well – we need your strong knees at this dark time in the world.
    Blessings to you and to your loved ones.

  4. Barbara Joy Laffey
    Barbara Joy Laffey says:

    It’s wonderful to learn that you literally had a hand in making that sign. Those trails were one of the main reasons I moved here back in 2001. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul and soles for your stewardship!

  5. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    I live in a suburban cul-de-sac where the small green space, fondly called Dandelion Park, is regularly visited by the local daycare and neighborhood children. It is bordered by ash and spruce trees. On occasion I notice children climbing limbs not large or strong enough to withstand their weight and exuberance. Like you, I have asked them to be careful, to not hurt them. Just last week, I noticed a torn limb. Not sure how this happened and it hurt to see it. A few days later, driving home from work, I saw some young girls tugging on it and asked them to please stop, to wait until it was properly trimmed off, so as not to hurt it further.
    As I read, I’m happy to know I’ve borrowing a page from your book, Ann. Too, to read that you are recovering from your surgery and returning to your beloved medicine walks and forest tending. Thank you. Much love.

  6. Diana
    Diana says:

    What a great story Ann – how lovely to see with your own eyes the good effects of your loving thoughtfulness all those years ago. Great trees everywhere do indeed need our stewardship.

  7. Sheila Kiscaden
    Sheila Kiscaden says:

    Dear One,
    I loved reading your story: to know that you are doing well after your knee replacement and are once again out among the trees; to learn that you had the vision and forethought to find a simple way to help people learn that they have a role in protecting that tree (and others); and most of all to remind us all of how you provide gentle guidance and affirmation to those around you. I am grateful for that compassionate

  8. Marie Dumais
    Marie Dumais says:

    Wonderful Ann. Such a beautiful title to be a ‘trail steward’ as well as a ‘keeper of trees’ and a person extraordinaire.
    Many blessings.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *