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The Treevival Project: Exploring an Environmental Ethic
by Jack Beuttell -- April 10th, 2012

Forestry contraband. We barely made it out of the Duke Forest with our lives and this old cedar tree.

Forestry contraband. We barely made it out of the Duke Forest with our lives and this old cedar tree.

re: church choirs, trespassing, and a naked cedar tree.

On Friday I went to see a classmate sing with the 200-member choir of The Summit Church. It was Good Friday and my first time to church in about a year. By the looks of the building, you never would have guessed you were in a holy place, though, because the exterior didn’t express traditional gothic or Georgian architectural values. It was a nondescript, tilt-wall warehouse tucked away in the Research Triangle next to a Sheetz gas station. But it was cool. There were big screen TVs on the walls and trendy Christian rap music bumping on the PA.

Outside the sanctuary, more than 1,000 eager listeners gathered and pressed against the doors waiting for 7:30 to roll around. When it did, the floodgates opened, and my friend John and I had to keep ourselves from running over the old man using a walker in front of us.

Patiently, though, we made our way to the front, hoping to score a good view of our friend, and that’s when I realized for certain we were in church—the entire front row was empty. We expected no homily tonight, however, so we took our chances and claimed two seats right there at center stage with the best view in the house. It was meant to be.

What followed was a vision of heaven. The voices of 200 people, young and old, black and white, cried out in harmonic unison, producing so much volume that it may have physically lifted my heart. I found myself clapping and swaying and singing along without embarrassment, and it was only the tears that I forced back because it recalled a thousand happy memories of the 15 years I spent as a devoted Christian, celebrating the Lord’s journey from Gethsemane to the grave and back. Despite the current state of my faith, it put me in a frame of mind to consider something we should all take time to ponder at least once a year: true sacrifice.

One might question the authenticity of my commitment to this spiritual exercise, however, because two days later on Easter Sunday, instead of worshipping the man who died on a tree, I initiated a top-secret project that required trespassing and cutting down a tree.

Operation name? Treevival.  My youth pastor would be horrified.

Ok, so it wasn’t really trespassing, and the tree had already been felled. My classmate Scott and I had vague permission to remove a tree from the Duke Forest, but confirmation came too slowly, so I borrowed keys from a friend and went on a scavenger hunt to an area where the forestry students had done some cutting last week. Scott and I examined each tree for its potential to satisfy our parameters, and we finally settled on a dwarfed cedar that had been alive when cut, but was decaying at its crown and tips. It showed signs of weathering, like a piece of driftwood, and barren of leaves it had the skeletal silhouette we were looking for. So we chose a section close to the base and began sawing away.

“Now, what is The Treevival Project all about?” you must be asking. Haha! I can’t give it away that easily because my Conservation Ethics class (ENV 298.120) doesn’t officially launch the project until tomorrow.

What I can tell you is that it does seem appropriate that the timing of Treevival would fall between Easter and Earth Week because it is something of a marriage between the two.  There will be no sermon, but there is a message.  And there will be no altar call, but there is a call to action. Treevival serves as a simplified version of the type of inquiry we wrestled with all semester in our class and the kinds of questions that remain unanswered (or unanswerable, some would say) in the field of environmental ethics.

Put simply, Treevival is about a personal commitment to something larger than the individual. It’s about—yes—sacrifice.

So, when you see that old, bony cedar around campus in the next week or so, stop and check it out. Open yourself to questions. Consider taking what the tree has to offer, but more importantly, contemplate what you offer it in return. If you and I do this, and we can get all of our friends to do the same, then who knows…the zeitgeist may move, and we just might be fortunate enough to be part of a good old-fashioned, genuine Southern Treevival.


1 Comment

  1. Sue
    Apr 13, 2012


    Nice to see it gracing Hug Commons, Jack. I was kind of hoping it would become a permanent fixture somewhere.

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