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The story of the transformation of the tree began in a Healing Environment Committee* meeting at Franklin Medical Center (FMC) in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in the spring of 2004. The subject of the meeting on this particular day was the fate of a large, beautiful maple tree in an enclosed courtyard but open to the sky. The courtyard was about to be restored into an inviting space for patients, families, and staff. At that time, although an impressive and large space, it had uneven pavers, hemlocks growing upward over the Cancer Infusion Clinic windows, several small Japanese maples, assorted picnic tables, and scraggly areas with barely tamed weeds.


The overriding question was whether the big maple was healthy enough to continue to reside in the courtyard. To proceed with the restoration and redesign of the courtyard, the fate of the maple had to be decided. If it was not healthy, it would jeopardize the stability of the new landscape and interfere with the new plantings and might have to be removed.

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An arborist was summoned. His diagnosis, sadly, was that it was too diseased internally and therefore too fragile to be expected to survive. Members discussed the arduous task of removing the giant tree, which would have to be lifted out of the courtyard by a crane. Ultimately, a local landscape company donated its services to extricate the maple. Meanwhile, the question was raised by one member about the fate of the tree. Could it be kept on the back lot until its origins were discovered? Did it really need to be sawed into firewood and taken away? Might a sculptor create a work of art from its trunk that would be enduring and that would honor its origins? Surely, the tree had been planted by someone with a dedicated purpose and had been important to many over the years. A letter was sent out to the hospital community inquiring of its history, but no one came forward. However, signs began to appear on the tree: "Save me!" "Don't take me down!" "Trees are living beings!" "Please honor my presence!" "You'll miss me!"


A local sculptor was invited to examine the tree to see if it was possible to sculpt. His pronouncement was that it was not, and this information was shared at a committee meeting. The committee members were very discouraged because, by now, they were convinced that it was important that the tree be saved in some honorable form.


Miraculously, on that very day, an art brochure appeared on the desk of the chief operating officer and codirector of the Healing Environment Committee. The brochure was that of the Japanese sculptor, Shinichi Miyazaki, who lives and works in the lower Berkshire Hills.


The director immediately called him, and he agreed to come down to the hospital and spend some time with the tree to see if there was a potential object of art residing in the massive tree trunk. After spending an hour or more with the tree, he declared that there was a potential object within the tree and asked that the massive tree be taken to his studio in the hills so that it could dry and season and he could study it further. In late November of that year, he came to a meeting and thrilled the attendees with a small clay model of a bench. There was much discussion about the special geography around the hospital. It centered on the silhouette of the hill above the hospital named the Poctomuck Ridge, which included the Poet's Seat tower. This tower is a handsome sandstone observation tower built in 1912. It was so named to honor the long tradition of poets drawn to the spot. Sculptor Miyazaki's final rendition is a handsome 9-foot-long bench whose design echoes the Poet's Seat and the Poctomuck Ridge. It is hand sanded and oiled. It resides opposite a large window that looks out into the courtyard at almost the exact spot where the maple once stood.


Meanwhile, the codirector attended a meeting of the alumnae of the former Franklin County Public Hospital School of Nursing. Always popular with this organization because of her enthusiastic support of their history and work, on this occasion she was met with dismay. They told her they were very unhappy with her because she and her committee were taking down their beloved tree! She asked for details and learned that they had planted the tree in honor of one of their classmates, Annabelle Stetson, in 1983. From the Greenfield community, she was known as a dedicated nurse. At the time of the dedication, she was the oldest living graduate of the Franklin County Public Hospital School of Nursing. They had watched the tree grow and enjoyed its beautiful foliage in the fall and shade in the summer, and now, they were about to lose it! The director replied, "Well, then, I have some good news for you!" She described the sculpture that was being created. Together, they planned a reception for the hospital community to honor their tree, the sculptor's creation, and their classmate. The silver tea service that had been donated to the hospital by the Stetson family was central to the festivities.


Several months later, we visited the courtyard and the handsome bench. While standing there, a young man, still in work clothes, came along the corridor with his parents, wife, and children. Suddenly, he stopped, turned to them, and said, "Wait until you hear the story of this bench!" His enthusiastic and detailed narrative thrilled his family and us.


This story of stewardship and hope is central to the life and purpose of this Healing Environment Project for it says that this hospital cares and nurtures all living things, that what is meaningful to its community is important and must be preserved and honored. Commemoration is an aspect of art and medicine, and this tree thus becomes a symbol of the continuity of this project.


There have been many magical moments in the life and work of the FMC Healing Environment Project. This story epitomizes those moments.