My mother left in April several years back and her memory still rings in my heart every day, her strong spirit has served as a guide and inspiration all throughout. In reference to our parents and their impact in our upbringing, it occurs to me that as fathers are referred to as “the rock”, mothers should be referred to as “the tree”, because besides protection, food, and shelter, they also give life.

Julio Guerrero

I personally have always been awed by the beauty of trees, their robustness, their web of branches, leaves and changing colors to the point of thinking there is a special connection between people and trees at least that was the case with me as far as I can remember. Even at elementary school age, I used to spend what seemed like long hours on top of the tree in our backyard playing games and enjoying the view from the top. For all I knew it was not as tall as I remember it but for my age and size then, it seemed like a castle. Later, around 7, I was known for how fast I could climb up a tree, there was only this other kid faster than me.

Those are the best memories of my childhood for reals, Peter Pan had nothing on me. I am sure I was not the only kid that fantasized building a house on top of a tree to live in. Even now, somehow, I pay special attention to songs that carry a tree as the main subject. For all these reasons, I’ll go as far as calling it a spiritual connection because It’s occurred to me that we should say a prayer when we see a tree cut down but then again, it’s not as if they die altogether because they stay around in the form of furniture, houses, utensils, toys, etc.

As I grew older, I have learned to reconcile my connection to trees as a substitute for my father whom I never met hence, at least in my mind trees represent all a father should inspire in me; someone to play with, strong arms to hold me or swing from and a sense of strength, safety and protection from the rain or sun under their shade.

When my daughter was two, I would take her around the block for a walk after dinner and as we passed by a pine tree I would stop and tell her that trees are our friends, they care for us, and we should hug them and care for them as well. As much as I meant it, I doubt she understood any of that, but it was always fun especially when I’d tell her to shake hands with the pine tree guiding her hand to shake the limb knowing that water would fall over our heads from an early afternoon shower. That she seemed to enjoy.

I remember in the early eighties I was in California in the middle of a life crossroads between jobs and not a place to live wondering what I would do next. The only thing in sight was a conference in the Midwest I had been invited to, which I saw as a possible place to land a job connection. So, after making my last rounds in San Jose, it was time to drive to Los Angeles where I’d catch my flight to the Midwest.   

My last stop was with Bob and Lily, two sweet souls that always looked after me. After a nice meal and inspiring conversation with them and two other guests, I said my goodbyes thinking about the long drive ahead of me. Only that Lily asked for a last favor as soon as I got up. “Our two friends here, are going south too, could you kindly give them a ride and drop them off in Santa Barbara, “said she. Typical California lifestyle arrangements were made right then and there as I wholeheartedly agreed to the request, besides I thought of it as good company to keep along the way.

The two friends were, I thought “an odd couple.” One, a young white hippie-looking guy and a “viejito,” an older Mexican guy whose language abilities didn’t seem to match and much like me, carried their life belongings in a couple of duffle bags. 

I really don’t remember but my sense tells me that instead of taking I-5, we took Highway 101 to Santa Barbara. It could have been the scenic road or the conversation, but the six-hour drive didn’t seem that long. We talked about one another, what we did, our work and general stuff.
I told them I had just finished a radio project for Cesar Chavez, other than that I was surfing my way through life trying to find myself and the hard predicament I was facing, they in turn told me about their work with the homeless. 

As it turned out, these two men were not from San Jose but were from Oregon where they were part of a collective that fed the homeless regularly. The story went to that Portland was not too happy about their charity work, claiming that it would actually encourage homelessness instead of solving it. It also didn’t help that their soup kitchen took place in the downtown area, which affected the tourism industry. As a result, the city government warned them that if they continued their activities, they would be facing jail time, hence their journey to Santa Barbara at the invitation of some friends where they hoped to revive their soup kitchen to feed the local homeless community.  

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