The Tree Evangelist Inspires His Flock
Written by Todd Vogel, Homeowner
It is our good fortune that Olaf Ribeiro lives on the Island. The energetic 80-year-old is a tree evangelist who has been featured on the Today Show and in the Wall Street Journal. Olaf has worked to save trees all over Bainbridge, on the state Capitol grounds in Olympia, and ancient trees in Britain.
Loom House’s trees have less storied backgrounds, but they are important to us, and, as living beings, important to Olaf. Residents in the Pacific Northwest have the pleasure of walking through cathedrals of tall fir trees. Most people stand in awe of the magnificent trees here.
Olaf believes that trees anchor us to real value. You can’t put a real dollar figure on them. You can cut one tree down and pretend that the next one you plant keeps things even, but the living system that original tree supported – beneath the soil and above – was the growth of generations. In keeping with his value system, Olaf approaches the trees as a personal relationship. At least half his big smile is for the trees.
He showed up one Fall morning with a clipboard, his wide welcoming smile and a bush hat with one side of the brim tacked up. He carried a large syringe-like instrument that looked about the size of a tool you would use to give Godzilla a flu shot. He walked through the property, making notes about how many cones the trees were producing. More, in this context, was bad. The trees were so fearful of dying, they were creating extra cones to ensure that their DNA survived. He also noted that many of the trees were “weeping” sap down their trunks – another sure-fire sign of distress. What Olaf really wanted to know, however, was out of our view.
Olaf dug into the roots of the trees and snipped off small samples. “I’ll take this back to my lab,” he said. There, Olaf analyzed the fungi and the rot in the roots. He sent us a recommendation for soil additives of mycorrhizae (a beneficial root fungus), humic acids and sea kelp, all of which increase the beneficial microbes in the soil and help the tree fight off disease. It’s a concoction that he has tested on his lab at home and thinks will work on our roots. He believes our trees can easily live another 100+ years with good care!
Then he asked us if he could give us, newcomers to the island, a tour of Bainbridge’s oldest trees. Who could say no?
When I showed Olaf this short writeup of our work with him, he offered his thoughts on working on this property: When I heard what the owners wanted to do, I was extremely excited to find someone who really cared about the natural environment as much as I did! I had finally found someone who really understood the words of Pavan Sukhdev (Project leader, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), who aptly stated that “As a society, we just got so entranced by this idea that value means market value. And we can’t seem to get over the fact that there’s a lot that’s valuable which doesn’t have a price. I hate the term “putting a price on nature,” because there’s more than that. It’s more about valuing nature”. I look forward with great pleasure to continue to ensure the health and survival of the trees on this unique property.
Written by Todd Vogel, Homeowner