On Thursday afternoon (NZ time) TORnsibs Delyth and Estelwyn attended the planting of 11 Commemorative Trees in a Wellington park. These trees were purchased with funds raised by members of the TORn boards, as a way of expressing our gratitude for the moving and inspiring work of Peter Jackson and his team.

Here’s our report:

To our surprise, Wellington turned on an unusually warm and sunny day, no sign of the wintry cold and rain from yesterday. As one of the council people commented later, LOTR events seem to have this effect on the weather, as the same thing happened on the day of the ROTK premiere.

Estelwyn spent the morning traveling over from Nelson, and we finally met in person at the Wellington Railway Station around lunchtime. We were kindly given a lift out to Willowbank Park by Amanda White, our contact from WCC. She was really excited to have some people from TORn present, and took great delight in introducing us as “The Lord of the Rings Fans”. We arrived at the site at about 1pm, which gave us plenty of time to check out the location – a very nice area, with a stream and some large eucalyptus trees, one of which had been blown down in a recent storm, making it seem even more appropriate to be planting there.

Our trees were planted together at a site near the road so they will be easy to find if anyone is there in the future. The trees (kauri – NZ’s largest tree) are 7-8 years old and about 2m tall. They were waiting patiently on the slightly muddy ground by large, freshly dug holes. We were introduced to people as they arrived, including the Mayor, Kerry Prendergast, and Myfanwy Hill, the organiser of the event – and keeper of the mayoral gumboots and the well-polished ceremonial spade!

The ceremony was a pretty low-key affair, which began with an introduction from the manager of the Parks and Gardens department of the council. He explained that the council’s new Commemorative Tree programme was a part of the overall strategy for greening of the city, talked in general about management and care of trees by the council, and said a little about these particular trees.

The Mayor then went on to welcome all those present, including us (Delyth and Estelwyn), 3 city councilors, a handful of council staff, a couple of council parks department volunteers, and a local midwife. She spoke about the concept of planting a tree as a memorial, to celebrate a birth or other event, or to “honour someone or express appreciation”. She also mentioned the appropriateness of TORn’s trees launching the Commemorative Tree programme – to be honouring both “one of Wellington’s best-loved sons”, and Professor Tolkien, who loved trees! She then indicated that we could say a few words.

Estelwyn agreed to speak on behalf of the TORnsibs, though it was quite impromptu. She explained briefly how the idea of this “commemoration” had evolved, and what it meant to us at TORn – the idea of saying “Thank-you” to Peter Jackson et al. in a tangible, lasting way that also gave something back to the community of Wellington. She mentioned that we were only 2 of hundreds of people round the world who had contributed to this fundraising effort, which also included a large donation to the Organ Donation awareness campaign GiveLife. She finished by explaining the significance for us at TORn of planting 11 trees – 9 for the Fellowship, 1 for PJ, and one for JRRT, plus 11 trees to celebrate 11 Oscars!

After this a Maori man from WCC said a karakia (a Maori prayer/blessing) and then we helped the Mayor plant the first tree! Plenty of photos were taken of us for a local newspaper, and one of the newspaper photographers gleefully informed us that he had just come from a press conference with Peter Jackson about King Kong. We got to plant another two trees while more photos were taken, although without our own pair of ceremonial gumboots it got a bit messy! The remaining trees were planted by the other councilors and invited guests. When all eleven trees were in the ground, we took some photos of the finished job, and then we were whisked off (in good Kiwi style) for a cup of tea in the restaurant next door.

Inside, one of the councilors we met proudly claimed to be the second New Zealander to read LOTR back in 1954. His 4th form (about age 14) English teacher had been a student of Tolkien’s at Oxford and had brought back to NZ three big hard cover books and given them to him to read. He said he had enjoyed them very much, but they were hardly talked about then. He then went on to tell us of his surprise some years later (1968) when he was in California, to discover LOTR had become all the rage with the “flower power” people!

Once everyone had left, Amanda drove us back into town while telling us stories of her encounters with LOTR in Wellington. She had one particularly interesting tidbit of information. She was in the crowd at a rugby match where PJ and co. recorded the “Death!” chant for the Ride of the Rohirrim scene. They also recorded the chanting of “Grond! Grond!”

All in all, it was a fun afternoon. It felt good to represent TORn and to help people understood our reasons for planting these special trees. We want to thank all the TORnsibs who contributed to this fundraising effort, and especially White_Aslan for her organising talent. You can all be really proud – the trees are lovely. Photos to come!