Susan Black’s mascot

Adopt-a-Block mascot goes missing

Anti-littering program's mascot has been taken away

Susan Black/Special to the Mirror

I stood in quiet horror staring down at what was left of Bonne the Birch tree, the Adopt-a-Block mascot for nearly two years. All that remained was her raw, torn trunk and two desperate saplings waving pleadingly in the whipping wind the morning of February 26.

To celebrate my birthday that day, I walked south from my home on Dogwood Street toward a hair salon to get my grey hair cut and styled. I became concerned that my bespectacled eyes were not picking up the familiar site of the Paper birch tree. Her five-foot stature and distinctive truncated trunk usually stood on the northwest corner of the Campbell River Curling Club property. As I paced forward, I saw that the fence that had been erected close to her a few days before had been dismantled and taken away and so had she. I wept.

With tears rolling down my cold cheeks, I remembered the glory and pain I had felt when I pulled an aluminum pop can from one of her five outstretched branches a few years earlier. I had passed by the Paper birch ignoring the tree because I felt it was the responsibility of the property owner or the city to look after it. One day the sun shone with exceptional brilliance reflecting its light on the metal gleam of the can. It was out of place and looked hurtful so I decided to remove it from the branch. I ripped several leaves from the tree and a significant amount of birch bark. I sensed the neglected tree was in need of some tender, loving care.

As a follow up with my tending minimally to the needs of the birch tree, I called one of the members of the curling club and asked if they would mind if I took care of the tree.

“It’s not our tree,” he said. “It’s on city property and belongs to them.”

I called the city and asked about the tree and was told it was not their property and it belonged to the curling club. I felt a sense of splendor and excitement at both responses. In my heart I felt that I had been offered the opportunity to adopt the abandoned Paper birch. With the help of a knowledgeable tree master, it was identified as a Betula papyrifera. With great enthusiasm I named her Bonnie the Birch. Bonnie became the mascot for the Adopt-a-Block program.

On one special occasion, Frank, my husband, and I picked rocks to place at her base. We cleared all the tall grass that was growing in her midst and pulled out the intrusive yellow broom plant, a notorious weed that will take over. A local garden centre provided us with two large packages of donated sterilized soil to spread over her exposed roots. Soon, a few of the Adopt-a-Block volunteers joined us and helped finish making her living space stylish.

Back at the offensive scene, I thought about how much I would miss Bonnie the Birch. Even in the winter months she generated lots of character. During the Christmas season, I had placed reflective tape on her barren branches so that drivers would notice and enjoy her being there. She was indeed unique because although the Paper birch is found throughout British Columbia there are only a few scattered on the outer coast and even fewer on Vancouver Island. With Bonnie the Birch’s leaves gone in the winter her unique bark is exposed and reflected beautifully by the snow covered ground. It’s thin, white to reddish brown character, with dark horizontal slits were easy to see in the cold months.

As I stood near what remained of her trunk, I remembered admiring her egg-shaped green leaves with their distinct doubly toothed sides, each a dull green on top, paler with a soft down underneath. I remembered the sensation of touching the new leaves in spring and admiring the tree’s sheer determination to come to full bloom. In my research of a Paper birch, I discovered that every tree has flowers and bears fruit. The Paper birch flowers are either male or female and are in narrow catkin. Female catkins are two to four centimetres long, standing erect at the tip of the branch. Male catkins are longer and hang below the branch. The flowers appear before or at the same time as the leaves.

Another curiosity that came to light in my research was that the Paper birch was fruit bearing. Her nutlets had wings broader than the seed and Bonnie the Birch produced thousands of seeds, like her descendant before her and that is how she came to be.

With the aid of other elements the birch planted roots, then fed on the generous break down of the rotting logs by her side and the kindness of rainfall. Filled with natural energy, her roots took hold and the magnificence of her existence was revealed. A slender sapling grew robust with bark, fruit, flowers and leaves. Taller and taller she extended her wanting to the source, the sun.

Her intention was to become a small to medium-sized tree, hopefully producing many stems, extending her existence up to 30 metres tall. And then, one day, someone cut her down to a stunted five foot, two inches.

Our original Adopt-a-Block mascot is now gone, however, Bonnie left behind two saplings, Berta; which means ‘Famous’, and Bert, meaning ‘Bright’. Both extend from her trunk and are attempting to find their place in the sun.

A local arborist has generously offered to take care of the two new extensions and based on her extensive experience and enthusiasm, the offspring have a good chance of survival.