Made of remnants of canvas from the curtains I made for Ruffner Mountain’s Nature Center, the ghost tree stands in the big room of the Nature Center. I originally made the tree as part of an installation for Naked Art Gallery. Stitched and sutured, pieced and patched, the tree symbolizes the connections between all living things. It serves as a reminder of fragmented forests and trees lost to urban sprawl and rampant development, but it is also a metaphor for hope and the power of nature to rebound if given a chance. A tree’s life is fragile. It is a building block in a forest of interconnected organisms. Tug on a string, and the entwined shifts and bends, branches break, and life unravels.
It is fitting the tree is at Ruffner Mountain. The mountain, once ravaged and scarred by iron ore mines and limestone quarries that fueled Birmingham’s iron industry and the birth of a city, has rebounded. Drift and slope mined (not surface mined, which would have been most devastating), pockets and patches of trees and plant life were left in place. Flash forward to today, diverse native plant communities live on. The nature preserve provides habitat to wildlife, trees give fresh air and ecological services to the city, and the mountain offers respite to Birmingham’s residents. In 2011, The Nature Conservancy of Alabama and Conservation Alabama Foundation supported a series of essays, Keeping Alabama Forever Wild, to bring awareness to the importance of Alabama Forever Wild. I wrote this essay about Ruffner Mountain: I am lucky. I live in a neighborhood that is nestled against the side of Ruffner Mountain. I can walk out the door of my house, and in just a few minutes, I can be at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve situated on 1,011 acres of wilderness between Birmingham and Irondale. Once there, it feels like I am far from everything else. The mountain has miles of trails that go from one end to the other, passing by remnants of the mountain’s iron ore mining history, leading to wetlands, sandstone outcrops, a limestone quarry and glade, and on to peaks with views of the city. For me, the mountain is my re-start button on a stressful day, my social network, my exercise gym, my meditation spot, my backyard. I like to think there is a sort of symbiotic relationship between me and the mountain — living in close association while sharing mutually beneficial interactions that are essential for survival. I benefit from the understanding and appreciation of the natural surroundings. The contact with nature offers a sense of calm effecting my mind, body and soul. I know I need these things, and I believe the greater community of Birmingham needs Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve and all it has to offer to aid in the physical, psychological and social health of its people. In return for all that Ruffner Mountain offers us, I feel a sense of responsibility to continue in the spirit of the founders of the Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition and to all other coalitions, organizations, programs, or acts that provide opportunities for conservation of wild places. The mountain serves as a reminder to me that an ordinary citizen like me can join forces with another individual, group, or organization to help protect, preserve, restore, and to complete the mutualism for long-term survival.