A Dalhousie University student and researcher is hoping to bring her Text-A-Tree project back to life after its success outgrew all expectations last summer.
Julietta Sorensen Kass, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in resource and environmental management, started a project last summer that brought 15 trees to life in Halifax’s Public Gardens.
People visiting the gardens could text one of the trees and receive a reply from a volunteer, who would converse in the voice of the tree.
Sorensen Kass said the initiative took root because she wanted to encourage people to engage with nature as concerns grow over the climate crisis.
“We’re doing all these initiatives to help with the climate, but I think it’s really important that we continue giving people hope so they have the capacity to do those things,” she said.
“It starts right where people live and that isn’t in national parks but in people’s backyards.”
The Text-A-Tree initiative was hugely successful. From the time it started in July until it ended at the end of August, Sorensen Kass and her volunteers received close to 11,000 messages from people who texted the trees in the Halifax Public Gardens.
Those messages came from more than 3,000 people who texted the trees about everything — from sharing their personal experiences to asking simple questions about the trees themselves.
But Sorensen Kass said people were disappointed when the project came to an end.
“Several participants messaged us saying they didn’t want it to end and asked the tree not to go,” she said. “In another case, we had a participant say they were so glad they got a chance to say goodbye before the project ended.”
Sorensen Kass said one of the more emotional messages came from someone who shared her hardships with one of the trees about her miscarriage.
The woman said when she has another child someday, she hopes to bring him with her to meet the tree.
“It was probably the one message that hit me the strongest because it was so powerful and so important and I think, as women, our needs aren’t being met,” said Sorensen Kass.
“I was just honoured that the trees were being made part of her healing process.”
The tree the woman confided in, a large weeping beech named Miss Luna Ruby, received about 1,200 messages, more than the other 14 trees.
Sorensen Kass also said she once ran into an older woman who was visiting the gardens with her daughter while the Text-A-Tree program was still happening.
“As I was describing the Wish Tree (a tree that participants can text wishes to) she erupted into tears and embraced me. After a long moment she took a step back, smiling with eyes lit by tears,” Sorensen Kass recalled.
“‘Thank you’ was all she said. That was the moment when I realized this project was going to take on a life of its own.”
Sorensen Kass now plans on creating a “pocket memories book” that will serve as an overview of the project.
The book will include biological information on the trees, as well as some of the special moments that happened between the trees and people.
“People would be able to see actual messages that were sent back-and-forth to the tree,” Sorensen Kass said.
She hopes to offer more projects similar to the Text-A-Tree model and is hoping to secure funding to continue her work.
“I want this to happen, but I won’t be able to do that without funding,” she said. “I am looking for opportunities or communities that might be willing to hold their own Text-A-Tree.”
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I am from India studying journalism at the University of Kings College. I love going on hikes and cooking!