'Treasuring Our Trees' Prairiewoods online series explores healing, understanding derecho changes

Among the more than 750 trees Prairiewoods lost in the derecho, this debris pile will become part of a H#xfc;gelkultur,
Among the more than 750 trees Prairiewoods lost in the derecho, this debris pile will become part of a Hügelkultur, creating wildlife habitat mounds for nesting on the center’s grounds in Hiawatha. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

While winter’s landscape appears to lie dormant under the snow, don’t let that fool you.

A subterranean network is buzzing, which makes winter an ideal time to build on the past to help the future flourish, according to local arbor enthusiasts and stewards.

Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha is moving forward from the loss of more than 750 trees across its 70 acres in the Aug. 10 derecho. The debris clearing continues, but not all is lost.

Recovering and replenishing the traumatized landscape of our land and lives is at the heart of “Treasuring Our Trees, Part 2,” a weeklong series of free Zoom sessions Prairiewoods is offering beginning Monday and continuing through Jan. 29.

Part 1, held on Oct. 25, helped participants acknowledge and grieve the decimation of 65 percent of the tree canopy in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area. Part 2 will help people move forward.

About 200 people participated in the fall event, noted Laura Weber, 55, of Cedar Rapids, Prairiewoods’ associate director and retreats coordinator.

“We had a wonderful response,” she said. “Facilitators both on Zoom and at Prairiewoods staged a beautiful memorial requiem for the trees. We built a cairn of mourning with a litany of healing, using all kinds of tree branches and stumps and leaves and acorns — everything the earth gives us right now. We used all of that to build a mourning cairn, and we had people from all over the bioregion who were just really in tears, because of the loss. We knew that communal grieving would kind of help heal everybody.”

Continued Healing

The planners also realized that one ceremony wouldn’t be enough.


“We knew it was going to be longer than a one-shot deal,” Weber said. “We knew we couldn’t just hold a ritual or memorial and then let it go, because people are going to need a long time, so we decided to do it as a series — the first part in the fall to remember and to give thanks and to mourn.

“The second part that’s coming up is to go deeper and to learn and explore what the trees could teach us as we’re dealing with this loss,” she said. “We’re trying to cover a holistic approach to healing after the derecho, so everything from the practical, how to take care of the earth, how to take care of the soil, the water, the stumps, what habitat we can really work on to help our creature kin to acclimate. So many creatures are displaced because of the derecho and all of the clearing of the land. It’s been really devastating for our bioregion.”

August Stolba, 26, of Cedar Rapids, will lead the first Zoom session at 4 p.m. Monday, titled “Trees: Architects or Architecture?” A former board member, he started his new position as Prairiewoods as the land care and holistic ecology coordinator about a week before the derecho hit, and has been working on clearing the debris and planning for the landscape’s future ever since.

“The volume is quite incredible,” he said, referring to the piles of debris that already have been hauled away and the work that remains.

He’ll talk about the structure of trees in his Zoom presentation, noting how one of the center’s volunteers says that “a tree’s footprint is only 3 feet around, but holds so much volume up in the air, and we don’t even notice it until it’s laying down and blocking your way.”

He’ll also lead “an exploration of mycelial networks and what it means for trees to be communicating and sharing resources underground on this vast scale that is comparable to our internet,” he said, “and talking about how we can model ourselves ... after this altruistic exchange of resources.”

Weber said the programming goal is to “help people understand how to care for all the trees as they’re going back to the earth. And then also, to help care for our human community with collective trauma. How to really learn from the trees how to deal with collective trauma. The derecho came on top of COVID and everything else, so everybody’s really battered from 2020, so we wanted to provide some spiritual nourishment too, and just help people recover a little bit.”

She will close out the winter session at 2 p.m. Jan. 29, with a time for relaxing, reflecting and sharing poetry about trees.


The third session, planned for April 11, also will be conducted online, and will celebrate hope and replanting.

Tree Lessons

With all of the derecho damage to homes, businesses and vehicles — and so many roofs still patched with blue tarps and property owners still waiting for structural repairs — the loss of the trees seems to resonate with people on a deeply personal, emotional level.

Because of the derecho, Weber said area residents are beginning to learn what Prairiewoods, Indian Creek Nature Center and Trees Forever — the organizations co-sponsoring next week’s Zoom series — already knew: “how interconnected the human community is with the tree community,” she said.

“Our arbor elders formed the very lungs of our planet. They strengthen the soil, they pour nutrients into the soil, they cleanse the water and the air. The trees are the mycelial networks beneath the surface of the earth, connecting everything.

“Without our trees, we’re lost. We can’t breathe without the trees. So on top of the pandemic, which attacked our respiratory system, it’s the trees themselves that had given us life.

“We learned that so many people were unaware before the derecho how incredibly, profoundly interconnected we are with the trees, and now they’re realizing it.”

One of her neighbors lost 13 trees, Weber noted. “She walked out a day or two after the derecho, and she just looked at me stunned, and said, ‘I feel like my whole family is dying. I can’t even look out here.’”

During her planning meetings, Weber heard that men and women who work for the city and on infrastructure concerns “are weeping because everything had changed,” she noted.

“The whole orientation — the light filters differently, the ground is parched. It feels like a wasteland. We’re a tree city and it feels like that twisted, mangled, terrifying feeling of being uprooted, and it was all over. We all experienced that kind of terrible loss together.


“I think it’s just that because we experienced it together as a bioregion and as a community, and because we were all traumatized by it, we’re all learning together, too, and that gives us hope,” Weber said. “We’re learning how to move forward through such a loss together.”

She thinks that’s why so many people watched the first session, and why registrations are picking up for the upcoming series.

"We need this,” she said. “We haven’t even been able to gather for our human funerals — and we can find a way to heal through this, and we can actually plunge deeper into the earth in the spring and help with plants. We’re helping each other heal by doing these kinds of things.”

At a Glance

• What: Prairiewoods presents “Treasuring Our Trees, Part 2”

• When: Various times, Monday to Jan. 29

• Where: 40-minute Zoom sessions

• Cost: Free

• Registration:


• Trees: Architects or Architecture? 4 to 4:40 p.m. Monday, with August Stolba, Prairiewoods land care and holistic ecology coordinator

• Ferns, Flowers, Fungi & Moss: 10 to 10:40 a.m. Jan. 26, with Rich and Marion Patterson, Winding Pathways

• Building Resilience in Our Landscapes & Ourselves After Collective Trauma: 10 to 10:40 a.m. Jan. 27, with Fred Meyer and Jen Kardos, Backyard Abundance

• Encountering Wholeness with Forest Therapy: 2 to 2:40 p.m. Jan. 28, with Emelia Sautter, certified forest therapy guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy

• Trees: Deep Roots & Essential to Life: 10 to 10:40 a.m. Jan. 29, with Shannon Ramsay, founding president and CEO of Trees Forever


• Tree Time & Tea Time: Nature Poetry to Stoke the Wintering Soul: 2 to 2:40 p.m. Jan. 29, with Laura Weber, Prairiewoods associate director and retreats coordinator

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