Tree Memorials


(This 808th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on September 24, 2006.)


Shortly after I began writing these columns I was pleased to be invited to participate in a ceremony dedicating a tree in Forest Lawn Cemetery to my predecessor, David Bigelow. That tree is a teenager now, already grown to good height, but it has many years, even centuries to live on, all that time continuing to honor a fine colleague.


I believe that the idea of dedicating a tree in this way is excellent. It is a means of extending a life and, unlike the more usual stone marker, it extends one life with another. Forest Lawn is not alone in doing this. Many towns of this region are inviting such tree dedications. Just one of those is Amherst.


Like that day five years ago, this September 11th was a beautiful clear day, another of those late summer days whose quality is unmatched anywhere, any time.


Each of us has special memories of that earlier, terrible day. For example, I remember, as we watched the burning towers on television, telling my wife about the B-25 bomber that hit the Empire State Building during World War II. Thank goodness architects learned from that episode, I told her, so these buildings are much safer. Minutes later both towers disintegrated. The modifications had not been enough.


Now after five years I walked along the bike path that follows Ellicott Creek north from near the corner of North Forest and Maple Avenues. I was headed for a ceremony dedicating a grove of trees to men and women from this region who were killed in that 2001 tragedy.


All along that trail are individual trees honoring family members and friends, each with a small plaque at its foot. In several places benches are provided and, still not fully recovered from my skiing accident last winter, I rested on one by the slow moving creek. I can imagine no more peaceful spot.


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The Amherst Memorial Grove on September 11, 2006


Three-fourths mile down the trail I arrived at a gentle rise where the noontime ceremony was to be held. It is another lovely spot, its centerpiece a flagpole flying our country's flag and, beneath it, a flag associated with the 9-11 episode. Around this are the many individual trees, still young but soon to grow into what will truly become the Memorial Grove it has been designated.


Although there were many participants in the ceremony, most credit should go to Amherst Councilwoman Deborah Bruch Bucki, who organized the event, and former Amherst Supervisor Susan Grelick, who sponsored the project during her tenure.


There were two parts of the program that moved me. The first was the reading of the names of the 21 victims associated with this region:


North Tower: Michael Canty, 30, 82nd floor; Leonard Castrianno, 30, 105th floor; Michael Finnegan, 104th floor; Joseph Heller, 37, 92nd floor; Stephen Hoffman, 36, 104th floor; Shai Levinhar, 29, 104th floor; Christopher Lunder, 34, 104th floor; James O'Brian, 33, 104th floor; Daniel Nolan, 44, 95th floor; Patrick Salamone, 37, 104th floor; Melissa Vincent, 102nd floor.


South Tower: Michael Lynch, 31, fire fighter; Paul Mitchell, 46, fire fighter; Sean Rooney, 50, 105th floor; Christopher Santora, 23, fire fighter; Dennis Scauso, 46, firefighter; Margaret Seeliger, 34, 100th floor; Jeffrey Shaw, 42, electrician.


United Flight 175: Amy King, 29, flight attendant; Michael Tarrou, 38, flight attendant.


American Airlines Flight 77: Renee May, 39, flight attendant.


Notice how young and vital they all were. And notice too how the variety of names speaks to our diverse nation.


The other moving part of the ceremony was the childish voices of elementary school students reciting a poem, "We Remember Them." Is it a forlorn hope that these equally innocent children will not again know of such a tragedy?


I left a few minutes before the end of the rites so I could walk back alone along the lovely lane of dedicated trees. They have received good care; many have flowers at their base. And now goldenrod adds a lovely backdrop.


My thoughts turned again to these early victims. To honor all of those who have suffered for us would take a forest. While I love trees, for this purpose I wish there didn't have to be so many.-- Gerry Rising