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Sarah Rossmassler: Recalling Bobbie MacLeod’s way with trees, and life

Barbara “Bobbie” MacLeod died this year; she was a longtime resident of the Valley who carried on a family tradition of planting trees in this area.

Bobbie and I met about three years ago when I needed someone with tree expertise to help me convince the Community Preservation Committee in Hatfield to award me money to plant street trees in our town. I was ignited by the consternation of my then 4-year-old son, who admonished me for ranting about the number of trees being cut down along our town’s street: “Mom, if it makes you so mad when they cut them down, why don’t you plant some trees?”

So I wrote a grant proposal to the committee which was heavy on passion and light on tree expertise. I knew for my cause to be taken seriously I’d need an expert at the table. I called many tree nurseries, but all were unwilling to venture out on a January evening to help me with my meeting.

Bobbie, on the other hand, agreed readily. I watched her slip-slip-slide on past the Town Hall on that snowy night in her car, turn around and slip-slip-slide on back. We walked up the stairs to the meeting together and without skipping a beat, she handily answered every question I couldn’t, and we walked out with $12,000 to plant street trees.

Bobbie was an encyclopedia of tree knowledge, and for my project she guided species choice, planting dates and maintenance of the trees with an understated way that matched her personality. She ran her nursery and her life in an old-fashioned way that drew me in.

Each time I could have made choices or decisions by phone, she instead insisted I come to her house, amble about the nursery rows and drink coffee in her kitchen. She and I developed a friendship which, looking back, was more gift to me than any of the tree expertise I sought. She slowed me down, and taught me about appreciating the commonalities we shared.

After three batch plantings over two years, I called her to plan our next round of plantings, and asked how she was. She told me she was sick with cancer, and that it was advanced. Her tone was matter-of-fact when she recalled plainly: “Now, it’s OK. I’m an old woman, and I’ve had a good life.”

Then, without any fanfare or pause, she suggested we figure out when I’d come by the nursery to choose the trees we’d plant next go-round.

Bobbie MacLeod’s roots run deep in this community. Many of the majestic beauties at Smith College in Northampton and other Northampton school campuses are those her father, Roderick MacLeod carefully chose and planted starting in 1913.

As Bobbie knew, and I now appreciate, planting trees is always for the next generation. Mature trees are a gift from the past, and the young ones we plant today are our responsibility and belong to the future.

It takes someone with the kind of selfless determination and deep-rooted love of the world to know that the fruits of our labors will be enjoyed long after we that plant are gone.

The magical thing about Bobbie is that she never closed herself to the possibility of planting more trees or inspiring another fledgling arborist.

At her good-bye party she introduced me as “my friend who is reforesting Hatfield.” The description initially made me cringe, as it felt like an overstatement.

But now, as I watch the small trees we planted together take hold, I understand that I was her friend and I just might help reforest Hatfield.

Sarah Rossmassler lives in Hatfield.

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