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Planting peace

On the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, a survivor continued her mission to spread peace
Hideko Tamura Snider pours water onto the Hiroshima Peace Tree Saturday in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Although Hideko Tamura Snider received plenty of praise Saturday during a community event in Ashland marking the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in World War II, it was clear she did not want to be the center of attention.

“Minus me was the goal — protecting our planet and our life is the most important thing today,” said Snider, who survived the Hiroshima attack.

Snider’s comments minimizing herself led Jerry Campbell, director of the Rogue Valley Peace Choir, to respond, “we share your passion for peace, but nothing you can say will dissuade us from loving you.”

At the Southern Oregon University farm off Walker Avenue, Campbell and a crowd of others watched Snider dedicate a ginkgo tree, grown from the seed of a tree that survived the atomic bombing 77 years ago. It was the latest of many “peace trees” planted throughout the Rogue Valley and the state, thanks to Snider and her One Sunny Day Initiative.

“(The tree) means fulfillment of my dream of working common ground, which is the only way the human race can go forth,” Snider said in an interview after the dedication.

“We can’t go, ‘We are the greatest!’ No, no, no — we can’t go with a power competition; we have to build common ground and let peace and justice prevail by working.”

During Saturday’s ceremony under the Thalden Pavilion next to the SOU farm, the university’s landscape supervisor, Michael Oxendine, spoke about the importance of the legacy tree program, in which he took seeds and grew them into 120 trees, now growing in towns ranging from Portland to Tillamook.

“I open (my office) door and there’s this Japanese lady there, and she says, ‘I’ve been all over the place asking people to help me grow these trees,’ and I said, ‘Yes, come in. Tell me all about it,’” Oxendine told attendees. “Her story moved me and brought me to tears.”’

Oxendine said he wondered whether he would be able to “stand up and dedicate my life to sharing a message of peace” had he been in Snider’s position in 1945.

Oxendine got the seeds from Hiroshima and germinated them in the SOU greenhouse.

“I didn’t want to do 10, I didn’t want to do 20. I said, ‘We’ve got to get 100s,’” he said. “I think it was the largest order they’d ever had. They sent us 100 different trees in seven different varieties.”

Oxendine said that while trees can fall victim to forest fires, water is a resource that is always present in some form.

“Water … has very special characteristics; it keeps all of us alive,” Oxendine said, “and it’s always been here. The water that is here today, and is going to bless the tree in a few minutes, it’s been in the ginkgo tree already, and we’re going to give it back to the Earth.”

Saturday’s ceremony was not all about “peace trees” — it was meant to honor the thousands who died, were injured or suffered wide-ranging repercussions of radiation from the nuclear blast over Hiroshima Aug. 6 and Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945.

The day’s event included the sounding of a gong, music from the Rogue Valley Peace Choir and Todd Barton, a flutist who played some Japanese folk tunes. Barton continued an extensive repertoire as ceremony participants poured water over rocks to remember the souls lost on those fateful days in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

There was also reflection on today’s consumerism by Dan Wahpepah, co-director and founder of Red Earth Descendants. He gave an inspirational talk about how many people are thinking too much about themselves and not enough of the environment.

“We’re in a very heavy wake-up moment right now, with all of these world powers in a nation-state mentality,” Wahpepah said. “Government, military, religion — all of these things work together to rob us of that critical thought. All we need to do is take care of our families and plant seeds. We don’t need all of this destruction.”

Lucie Scheuer, a liaison to the One Sunny Day Initiative, told the crowd Saturday she felt empowered.

“I know I am just one little person, and this year I can’t change the world. But I have found over the years that I can,” Scheuer said.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.