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As representatives of Seventh Generation, Sarah Thompson and I went to New Orleans this Earth Day for the culmination of One Ton Tree, our Eco-llaboration with Seed Collective, Replant New Orleans and City Year. We spent Earth Day digging holes and planting trees to help replace the 50,000 that were taken by Hurricane Katrina.
This was my first trip to New Orleans. And to be honest, it was never a place I had thought of visiting before. I love the music of course, but I get my fill every year at the Montreal Jazz Fest. Plus I don’t eat pork, and I’m not huge on beads or drinking in the streets. But The Big Easy has much more to it than that.
Since Katrina I’m sure it’s quite a different feeling down there. It’s still big, but nothing’s been as easy. At first glance it occurred to me that I might have enjoyed the hospitality and architecture pre-Katrina, but that now it’s just too painful to visit.
Isn’t that strange? “pre-Katrina”. It’s an adjective. Post-Katrina is a reality. But what people don’t often talk about is the economical depression of the former – the fact that a lot of the run-down and abandoned buildings there were already run-down and abandoned. I imagine that the people of New Orleans are thinking it, when they see tourists rubber-necking at the dilapidated homes as though they’re peering into the storm itself. I wonder if pre-Katrina those same tourists would have even bothered to explore outside of the French Quarter.
But I can’t pretend to know what the people in NOLA feel or think. What I do know is that they are the most friendly and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. “How ya doing?” is a question I answered over a dozen times a day. We received friendly waves from passers-by while we were planting trees in their neighborhood, of course. But also from strangers we passed by on the street, even from their cars – half an intersection away! And it’s sincere. You can feel it.
As part of our end-of Earth Day celebrations – thanking the volunteers from City Year, Replant New Orleans and their partners – we held a dinner at the New Hope Baptist Church in Central City. I was there with Napoleon from Seed Collective as he set up the final “virtual forest” installation, showcasing ALL the online trees planted to date through One Ton Tree.
It’s these virtual trees, “planted” online by people across North America, which helped us to fund the Central City “Peace Park” (notice the shape of the landscaping in the picture), along with other trees we planted in the Central City neighborhood on Earth Day. The website is still running and will continue to fund future plantings in New Orleans this year.
During that time setting up in the church we interacted with some amazingly lovely men and women from New Hope Baptist. I can’t tell you the last time I felt so welcomed. We also met a bunch of really great kids who helped us plant and celebrate. It was the spirit of the people I met in Central City that day which gave me an entirely different picture of New Orleans.
Again, I won’t pretend to know what the people of New Orleans are thinking or feeling. But despite the deep poverty and devastation I witnessed in my few days there, I can say that I felt from them that they had hope, and faith, and that they would persevere.
I wish I had more time there. And I will definitely go back. But I also know that we all need to do more, to help more. And not just because of the effects of Katrina – though maybe in some strange way we have her to thank for calling our attention to the need.