Bernie O’Brien is an art consultant during the week, but wears a completely different hat on weekends. For five years, the West Seattle resident has rescued unwanted trees from all over the Seattle area, digging them up with a shovel and pickaxe and then transplanting them on his five-acre property. His work has resulted in a new life for trees that weigh up to 400 pounds, which makes it all the more impressive that O'Brien saves the trees, for the most part, on his own.
O’Brien’s passion as a tree rescuer started five years ago when a neighbor near his Key Peninsula property in Washington state removed scores of old-growth trees. Not only did the trees’ removal cut back on his privacy, but he noticed that the owls and other birds who had made the trees their home could no longer be heard. His spread at one time had been full of holly trees but eventually had become pastureland. O’Brien decided he wanted to build his own forest, one tree and one weekend at a time.
His one-man tree adoption campaign then began as he would scout for trees targeted for bulldozers or chainsaws. O’Brien also searches for such trees on Craigslist and also posts announcements about his tree adoption mission as well. Japanese maples, crab apple tree,s and Douglas firs are among the trees that have found a new life on the property O’Brien shares with his wife, Michelle McCormick.
The work is hard and laborious. A wide and deep circle has to be dug around the tree and sometimes a taproot can prove near impossible to extract out of the ground. Not every tree rescue is a success: one-fifth of the transplanted trees die in their new home. O’Brien actually prefers to dig during the rain when the ground is softer, so he often ends up caked in mud. He takes a break during the hot summer months and during the holiday season. The work, in the end, is worth it when O’Brien hears frogs and birds in the distance.
Photos courtesy Bernie O’Brien