It's difficult to believe it's been a year since I first started writing Bulletin of Remarkable Trees, and it has truly been a labor of love. I'm so grateful to everyone who has supported me, through subscribing, sharing posts, or leaving thoughtful comments (which always add such a beautiful layer to the posts themselves.) I'd love to hear what posts you've enjoyed most over this past year!
It’s an intimate act, delving into the details of someone’s life. Especially when that person is no longer alive to give nuance to the pieces of their existence you’re attempting to fit together. The best you can do is examine and re-examine what they’ve left behind - letters, drawings, collected scraps of paper, photos. What they kept until the end. The things that held meaning for them are now spread out in front of you—a story waiting to be arranged.
I never met my dad’s dad. Despite this, I feel like I know him. Having read through decades of his daily journals, countless letters to his brother, the breadth of publications he wrote for the Morton Arboretum, he feels unmistakably alive to me. I occasionally have to remind myself that he’s gone, that the events I’m reading about occurred years and years ago. His words are so full of life, their vitality extended by my reading them. It sometimes feels as if I could walk into the Arboretum library and see him there, filling more and more notebooks.
It’s difficult to read through the later years of his journals, knowing what’s coming. I want to scream at the page, as if yelling forcefully enough my voice could echo through time and warn him of what’s about to happen. A front-row seat to the end of a life, but viewed distantly through the foggy glass of time. I want to change the outcome; I wish I could somehow alter the ending of my grandfather’s story. He had so much to give, so much more, and then suddenly he was gone. It’s clear the effect his death had on my dad and my grandmother, especially through her pained words filling out the remainder of his 1966 journal. Even removed from his death by time, reading through her aimless, wandering entries makes my stomach cramp up in anguish.
Talking to the few people still alive who knew him (my dad, and recently, Carol Doty) and listening to/reading the way his colleagues described him in the years following his passing, it’s clear he left an immeasurable mark on everyone around him. Not just through his work at the Arboretum, although he undoubtedly had an enormous impact there, but through who he was. Digging into the Arboretum Library’s archives, I was able to find recorded lectures from various Arboretum staff which show how deeply they valued my grandfather as a colleague and friend (in addition to a touching excerpt from my recent interview with Carol Doty in July):
Lowell Kammerer had an uncanny background for tree materials - woody plant materials. In fact, if I know anything at all I got it from Lowell Kammerer. — Walter Eickhorst, 2000
Mr. Kammerer, I don’t know if any of you knew him, he was a right fine man. He was the curator of the Arboretum plant collections. And he wrote the bulletins after that. A really fine fellow to get along with. — Clarence Godshalk, 1976
Mr. Kammerer had a great appreciation for plants and materials for cultivation in gardens and landscapes. His appreciation extended to wild flowers and other plants of the woods and prairie and he gave due recognition to the landscape potential of the natives in his popular writing up to the time of his untimely death. — Ray Schulenberg, 1987
I had so much respect for him…as a person, and what he knew, and how he conducted things. He was just extraordinary. And irreplaceable. Literally irreplaceable. We’ve had many fine people that have been here over the years, but he was one of the special ones. — Carol Doty, 2021
In the recorded interview with Walter Eickhorst quoted and linked above, he’s asked by the interviewers what he feels is his most important achievement from his time working at the Arboretum. He answers by first saying that he had “the privilege of working with Lowell Kammerer. I owe him everything that I know today.” He then describes how he was continuously learning from working with my grandpa: making labels, record keeping, and especially proofing the Arboretum’s Bulletins of Popular Information. My grandfather’s work and writing touched so many people while he was alive, and is still echoing through time to affect us today.
When I started this project, I didn’t really have a direction beyond learning more about my grandfather’s life and work and writing about it. Some days, I still feel like I’m figuring out the directionality of it; there are a lot of unknowns, trial and error, pushing forward and contracting back involved in a project like this. But at the end of the day, every permutation of this newsletter serves the ultimate goal of getting more people interested in the place my grandpa spent his entire career tending, the Morton Arboretum. That goal has taken many forms - writing directly about him and his work, celebrating the Arboretum as it is today, bringing things he was passionate about to the fore, like the library or native plants or the simple beauty of trees.
I get the sense that my grandpa was like me, slightly uneasy at the prospect of promoting yourself and your work. His knowledge and aesthetic eye touched every part of the Arboretum, but he never pushed for public recognition, best as I can tell. In promoting this project, hoping it will grow and reach more people, it helps me to think of what I’m doing as maintaining my grandfather’s legacy - highlighting the enormous body of work he produced that makes my work, and much of the Arboretum’s past and current work, possible.
In celebrating a year of this project, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank all of you for reading, sharing, commenting, and coming along on this journey with me. I cannot express how grateful I am to have piqued your interest enough to keep you reading, and I hope you’re excited to see what’s next!
I wanted to let you know what I’ve been working on - a teaser, if you will, for what will be hitting your inbox soon:
A full Bulletin of Remarkable Trees post about the relationship between the Arboretum and the Chicago Tribune during the mid-20th century.
The first post in the Japan Trip series at the end of the month.
And, related to the last point, I wanted to remind everyone that I’m offering a subscription discount until the end of November!
These paid subscriptions make it possible for me to continue with this work, and I’m so deeply appreciative to all of you who have already become paid subscribers.
Even if you’re unable to support this work monetarily, sharing Bulletin of Remarkable Trees with your friends/family/coworkers is exceptionally helpful! If you’ve shared a post with even one other person, I appreciate it so much.