The sun was just rising as it lit up the dry hot desert ground in Sylmar one morning. The foothills radiated with lush green foliage and brush all around. Trees crowned the streets with towering canopies. There was a national guard station with a freeway nearby. Cars were crawling bumper to bumper. People ambled onto crowded sidewalks and parking lots as the busy morning began. A nearby McDonald’s looked less packed than anywhere else. I got some cold water to drink as I sat down. I had been walking all night long from about twenty miles south.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept soundly through the night. Where would I sleep tonight without being arrested for loitering, camping, or trespassing? Would I be attacked again? Would I see any wild animals? Where would I be safe? I decided to head up into the foothills and take my chances there. I climbed up the steep side of a hill off the road a bit. There was a little plateau just big enough to sleep in peace. I threw down the bags I had to rest my head on them. I flattened my jacket and another sweater to lay on. My mountaineering training had come in handy. I had been in the bush before. I was taught well. I had a flashlight, water, a little food and some first aid with me. I prayed for God for help and protection. Finally, I went into a blissful sleep.
I awoke the next morning to a loud honk of a truck with rumbling wheels. When I came back that night I found a big bushy, thick, old oak. There were impenetrable little bushes surrounding the trunk which gave perfect shade from the sun and predators. I thanked God for keeping me safe and poured out my thoughts to Him. My bills were paid, but there was nothing left over. I had to flee for my life because men were jumping over the walls to attack me. All I could do was keep praying and talking to people that could help me. I still managed to stay in touch with my daughter. Nothing mattered except to keep my honor and dignity. I did stay clean. I did stay in church. I returned to the same majestic tree every night for three weeks. I went to the parks and used the restrooms there. I ran and exercised every day. I read my Bible. I wrote. No criminals were going to have any power over me. I had some mace with me just in case a curious animal came prowling around. I gained a huge respect for trees and nature.
The second night I heard some rustling in the bushes. It was not very near to me though. After a while all was calm. As I lay down my head to sleep I suddenly heard the shrill, howl of a coyote. I never did see it though. It took my breath away. I finally went back to sleep. I was very aware that I was surrounded by wildlife. There were some possums creeping around at night. There were some squirrels, chipmunks, everywhere in the day. The birds were singing like they were trying to cheer me. They sometimes climbed the trees. But they never came to my tree. The stars were bright as little candles held from far away, twinkling in the pitch black sky. The harmony of it all was enough to lift me up and be thankful for all things in nature.
The third night I saw a little mouse scurry by the ground next to me. I never was bitten by anything. I kept praying to God and imploring His aid and help. After three weeks under that big majestic oak tree, I was never attacked. I was never asked to leave. I was never raped, robbed or beaten. I was saved by that tree. I had a plan to climb that tree if a coyote or big ferocious animal came at me. Thankfully, I never did have to climb that tree. It was a life saving tree. I will never forget that tree. It was my best friend.
So when the Tree People came to plant trees in front of this building I told them the story of how that tree in Sylmar saved me from all harm and danger. They named one of the seven new trees after me. It is still there thanks to a very special friend who fought valiantly for a year working with city officials, police department, CCEA, and private agencies and residents to bring more trees to help beautify Skid Row. Because of one lady’s courageous determination to beautify this neighborhood she gained enough support to start her own nonprofit to accept donations to add more trees and greenery here. She had to raise money for the concrete to be dug up and then water them herself each week with a wheelbarrow and a bucket. When she waters the trees now the homeless people help guard them and some have become her friends. Why is it so hard to plant trees?