Bernie moves his rescued trees by pickup truck. Photo courtesy: Bernie O'Brien
I have just found another grassroots hero, Bernie O'Brien, rescuer of trees in need. Bernie finds trees which are going to be uprooted, cut down, dynamited or removed in some fashion because they are in the way of some project or another. There is nothing wrong with the tree - it just has the misfortune of growing in a coveted piece of land. Enter Bernie.
During the week, 51-year-old Bernie O'Brien leads a normal life as a consultant for an art managing firm in Washington state -- but on the weekends, he transforms into no less than an arboreal superhero, a rescuer of trees. For the last five years or so, the West Seattle native has saved hundreds of unwanted trees throughout his community from the chainsaw or bulldozer by single-handedly relocating them to his home where they can rest their roots in peace.
While serving as hero to trees may seem like a thankless job, and one certainly in need of a glitzier moniker (his wife has dubbed him 'the human shovel'), for O'Brien, giving condemned trees a new lease on life is what being a good neighbor to Nature is all about. So, whenever he learns of a tree in need of a new home, O'Brien is certain to respond.
"Trees are not just a number and we can never have too many. They, too, have character."
According to The Seattle Times, O'Brien's foray into tree adoption and rescue began years ago, after he saw first hand what happens to an ecosystem when old trees are cleared away:
When a neighbor by his five-acre Key Peninsula property cut down a bunch of old-growth trees, O'Brien says, he noticed that the owls he could hear at night went away.
And O'Brien liked the privacy the old trees gave him, and wanted to replace the rampant blackberry bushes. He decided he would create his own forest on the five acres that's mostly pastureland and used to be a holly tree farm, with the original home still on it.
Photo courtesy: Bernie O'Brien
Since then, O'Brien has come to transplant nearly 500 unwanted trees of various sizes and varieties on the property surround his house. At first, he heard about plants in need by word of mouth, but more recently O'Brien has turned to Craigslist to learn of trees that might be looking for a new home.
"If you have trees that have been planted too close to the house, planted under wires, outgrown their space in the city. ... Then I have a good home for them," reads O'Brien's posting. "Max thickness is 5" trunk ... I dig these up myself so imagine how much one person could physically take on."
Needless to say, just in the last few years the pastureland surrounding O'Brien's home has been transformed to a haven for adopted plant life. But the arboreal superhero says he has no plans of slowing down with his good works anytime soon; as it turns out, O'Brien notes that rescuing trees, while not always easy, is rewarded by more than just shade on a hot day.
"I keep reminding her that the exercise is keeping me alive ... spirits and physical health," he says. "I have no doubts I could keep doing this until I was 70."