Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Trees Remember: Memorial Plantings

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There are many ways to memorialize a person. There are monuments, eulogies, traditions and rituals. There are gifts of flowers and donations to charitable organizations. In fact, there are as many ways to memorialize as there are special people to remember. The important thing is to make your memorial appropriate to the spirit of your loved one; a meaningful tribute to their personality.

Planting a tree is by no means a new idea for memorials. Many of us have planted trees with our own hands in memory of a loved one, and it is a satisfying and moving experience to get your hands dirty, and your muscles working for such a good reason. It is also an act that allows for reflection and the symbolism of renewal as we see that tree grow and change each season

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Tree planting can also be arranged as a memorial gift, replenishing the earth with a group of trees planted where they are needed most. This is what 'The Trees Remember' organization offers. I recently had the opportunity to interview Todd Pagel, the owner and founder of The Trees Remember.

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Pat McNally: What inspired you to start this service, Mr. Pagel?

Todd Pagel: The Trees Remember was created to connect people looking to give unique and inspirational gifts, for almost any occasion, and various non-profit reforestation initiatives, which are trying desperately to save our endangered forests and woodlands.
It is our mission to supply simple and affordable giving solutions, which create vibrant, living legacies for those honored for years to come. The initial inspiration to start this project was actually quite simple. In searching for a unique gift for somebody, I came across a site offering tree dedications. I immediately fell in love with the idea of giving a gift which kept “paying the planet back” long after most gifts would be forgotten or thrown away. The materials the recipient would have received through this company, however, were utterly unimpressive and, in my opinion, did not live up to the gift’s noble intent. I was certain I could improve upon the idea, the presentation, and the price. The Trees Remember was founded to achieve a number of goals. We wish to promote tree planting as a viable, more meaningful and symbolic gift alternative to “traditional”, temporary gifts, like cards, candy, flowers, etc.; to significantly enhance the experience of both giving and receiving a tree dedication gift; and to reinforce the efforts of non-profit groups who are planting trees and struggling to restore areas of the planet which have significant reforestation needs.

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Pat McNally: How does your organization differ from other tree planting services?

Todd Pagel: The Trees Remember differs from similar services in a number of ways. First and foremost is our understanding that the physical qualities of the gift, and the experience of receiving it, are almost as important as the sentiment behind it. Other services create rather mundane cards, sent in ordinary paper envelopes. We believe a gift like this deserves more elegant treatment and more attention to detail. Additionally, if the tree dedication site’s card generation is an automated process, any error the giver of the gift might make on the order form will find its way directly onto the final product, which can prove unfortunate or even embarrassing. Most importantly, most services also fail to offer significant opportunity to truly personalize the gift, or allow the sender to express their feelings, in their own words, on a separate card.

The Trees Remember, however, creates each card individually, by hand. They are printed on recycled photographic paper and slipped into elegant and sturdy, textured, cardboard frames, which have an embossed, double border and decorative edges. We also provide an elegant fold-over note, in its own separate envelope, in which our customers can say whatever they are truly feeling. Sometimes it is a simple one sentence phrase, while other times, it can be paragraphs long. Rather than depending on automation and website scripts, we personally input these sentiments individually, proofreading each and every one. We do not change the wording of the message (except in obvious cases of transposed words), but we look out for our customer’s best interests, adding commas, capitalizing names, and formatting the message to its best effect. Once the acknowledgment card is in the frame, and the personal note is in its envelope and slipped inside, we wrap the frame with a waxed cord from which dangles a small pewter “Eternity Tree” charm. Though it is only the size of a dime, it is a physical reminder of the gift itself, and they can attach it to key-chains, bracelets, necklaces, bookmarks, etc., so a reminder of their memories is always close at hand and within sight. After all that, the finished package is placed in a rigid cardboard mailer (also recycled, of course), so even if the mailman has a bad day, your framed card arrives in pristine condition. All these components and processes make our gift acknowledgment package a pleasure to receive. The quality is immediately apparent, and reflects well on our customers. Our central aim is to provide added value to the presentation of this symbolic gift, and to convey our customer’s sentiments in as elegant and uplifting a manner as possible.

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Pat McNally: I understand that your policy is to work through third party non-profits, and to facilitate the planting of trees where they are needed, rather than in a place that is easy for contributors to see. This makes sense, however, what assurance do people considering memorials have that their funds will actually be used to plant trees? Also, is there a list of third party groups that you work with?

Todd Pagel: Being a business, we do not publish specific information on costs and/or affiliations, as we consider this proprietary information. However, we understand the natural tendency to want “a paper trail” in transactions like this and are currently investigating implementation of third party auditing and certification, to provide another level of validation for our business model. I will state for the record that the non-profit organizations we use are the largest in the industry, and have established and impeccable reputations going back decades, and have planted literally hundreds of thousands of trees over the years. Though we heartily endorse donations to international reforestation efforts as well, at present, we are currently targeting only domestic planting.

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Pat McNally: Are the trees planted through this program harvested later?

Todd Pagel: The trees we arrange to have planted are all planted in U.S. National Parks, and are not scheduled to be harvested at any later date. They are planted as seedlings, in areas where they are sorely needed - areas ravaged by fire, erosion, or human interference in natural cycles, and there they will stay, becoming vital components of a vibrant ecosystem once again, and for many, many years to come.

Pat McNally: Can you tell us what percentage of each gift goes to the actual planting of trees?

Todd Pagel: Each non-profit has a cost they incur to plant each tree, and we pay whatever price they require in order to fill the amount of the gift. It varies from group to group. What I can say that The Trees Remember is still a very young company, run out of a very meager office, with a very small staff, and I, as owner, have yet to draw a regular salary, or actually take any money at all out of the company. This is a labor of love and commitment, not an endeavor we engage in for the money or to retire on any time soon.

Pat McNally: How can families specify that memorials for their loved ones go to your organization?

Todd Pagel: This question hits upon the core of a program we are currently developing, namely encouraging funeral homes to offer our service directly to families they are serving, as well as to those who support the families in their time of grief. Funerary staff can easily offer memorial planting information as an option to the family when the package of services is being purchased. In order for families to directly endorse the use of our services, they should have funeral home notifications and/or obituaries include a phrase like “In lieu of flowers, the family encourages the planting memorial trees through The Trees Remember at ”, or something like that. We are also developing a discreet and elegant way of enabling distribution of memorial planting information right at the funeral home, during visiting hours (with family permission), wherein mourners could access a small display of information, be able to take a small reminder card home with them, and order online after the service. This is a delicate endeavor, however, and we are still assessing its viability via industry consultants.

Pat McNally: Thank you for discussing your business with us, Mr. Pagel. Are there any thoughts or statistics about tree planting that you'd like to leave us with?

Todd Pagel: I would like to share my feelings on the giving of trees as an expression of sympathy and the dedication of trees as living legacies to lives well lived:

Trees are stoic, silent, and seemingly eternal. They are strong, and solid. They are deeply rooted into the very fabric of this world and have an elegant grace about them that is unmatched in nature. As we evolved, trees have always offered us shelter, food, protection, etc. There has always been a spiritual link between man and trees, and people who are grieving find in trees an unspoken solace and a solemn comfort. When somebody loses a loved one, I believe they subconsciously embrace things which seem more permanent, and more resistant to the passage of time, to give them a reassuring sense of the world’s continuity as they navigate dramatic changes in their lives. Trees offer that connection to something larger than ourselves, something which will live on long after we have turned to dust. In fact, the name of the company came from this snippet of verse.

Heart and Soul of the World,

Timeless Watchers of Men,

The Trees Remember All.”


for more information, visit The Trees Remember Website. All photos in this post were used by permission from Todd Pagel


mjfurniss said...

The interview states that the trees are planted in national parks. Reviewing the website, it is clear that they are in fact planted in NATIONAL FORESTS, which are very different from national parks. In many cases, I expect there is no assurance that the planted trees will not be removed, or that they will be replaced if they die, fall over, burn again, an so on. I would also point out that in the case of burned areas, the Forest Service is going to plant these areas in any event, and while is a nice to contribute to the expenses of doing so, the gift is not actually causing the tree planting, but merely financially supporting it. For a business that is based on trust (we will do what we promise), it seems important to get the details correct, and be as transparent as possible, and leave the "proprietary" secrets out entirely.

Birmingham Tree Service said...

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