Atchison Kansas is home to the International Forest of Friendship. Isn’t that a marvelous concept – international friendship? A place filled with trees, which are, by nature a symbol of peace and tranquility, dedicated to international friendship.
Located in the northeast corner of the state, Atchison is better known as the birthplace of the internationally famous aviator Amelia Earhart. It is because of Earhart that an international organization of female pilots, known as the Ninety-Nines, established the Friendship Forest here in 1976, America’s bicentennial.
Trees and Forest of Friendship
More park-like than a heavily wooded as the word “forest” implies, the space is filled with 50 individual trees, identified as the official tree of each U.S. state. There’s is also a tree from Amelia Earhart’s grandfather’s farm and one from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate.
One tall, majestic tree is known simply as “the moon tree.” Not that trees grow on the moon, as far as we know, but the seed of American Sycamore did go to the moon on Apollo 14 in 1971, and this is the tree. It honors all astronauts that gave their lives in the U.S. space program.
Another 36 trees come from countries around the world: an English Oak from Great Britain, a European Linden from Germany, a catalpa from Brazil, a persimmon tree from India. Other trees come from Israel and Saudi Arabia and South Africa. It’s amazing some of these trees do so well in the sometimes harsh and variable Kansas climate.
One of my favorites in the pine tree from Finland.
Only God Can Make a Tree
As delightful as it is to look up at the beautiful trees, it’s just as important to look down as you explore this beautiful landscape. As you enter the park, the words of that famous poem by Joyce Kilmer are engraved in the concrete pathway:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Also engraved in the sidewalk are the names of scientists and aviators who have made great contributions to man’s ability to fly. Yes, the Wright Brothers are there, and so are household names of aviation, like Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Jimmy Doolittle. But there are other names, some 1400 of them, that may cause you to grab your phone and google their names to understand their contribution to aviation history.
And take time to do just that – you might learn a few things. But don’t spend your entire time in the Friendship Forest looking at your phone. Look up and around and appreciate the peace that surrounds you. Then carry that peace with you as you travel the world this spot represents.