By KYLIE McFERRIN
LADY OF THE WOODS: Minshall Park neighborhood resident Rebecca Norton works hard to keep her nearby greenbelt free of debris from natural and man-made sources.
Not everyone grows up becoming one with trees, but Rebecca Norton did. It was her escape and it seems not much has changed since. As a child, the woods were a friend while living in New England, and now a licensed counselor with degrees from Louisianna State University and Amberton University, the trees are still her constant friends as her continuous work in the greenbelt behind her Minshall Park neighborhood home in south Tulsa can attest.
Moving to the neighborhood in 1998 with husband, Doug, Norton was drawn to the trees yet again. It felt like home, the home she identifies with. “So, you see, trees and woods have always saved my life. When I saw the woods in the greenbelt, I knew I was home,” she says.
Upon exploring the area and noticing the extreme amounts of erroneous material dumped among the trees, her mission began. Working steadily to begin removing the trash, the momentum picked up.
Asked why she began her cleanup of the greenbelt, she says, “I would take my dogs for a walk most mornings. I noticed how much trash and dumping that there was in the greenbelt so I began to clean up.
“I found an air conditioning unit, car seat, truck door, shag carpet, truck tires, and lots of debris that would be dumped after trees were cut near electric lines. Smokers, all kinds of planters, debris that yard workers would throw there, and of course all kinds of miscellaneous trash. I still continue to find the trash on a regular basis.”
Working with Up With Trees via the City of Tulsa foresters helped Norton recognize which vines were hurting the indigenous trees, some of which are red buds as well as ancient oaks. By clearing the vines and other species that have been continually preventing growth of native trees, Norton’s work has ensured that they are stable and flourishing. She certainly doesn’t discount help from local neighbors. Many have stepped in to lend a hand to her efforts.
“Some of our neighbors have decided to pitch in and help with some of the projects. I’ve gotten a chance to get to know more about several of my neighbors, and this has turned out to be a lot of fun,” she says.
When it comes to projects beyond her work with the trees and planting of native plants, Norton has constructed “wattle fences” throughout the corridor of her greenbelt section, which hold a dual purpose. Not only do they look nice but they also help with soil erosion. Although a wattle fence may sound mysterious, it is a medieval fence woven from tree branches, in which neighbors have also learned to craft themselves with her instruction. Some residents are beginning to use them in their own yards after seeing her work. Yet another delight hidden in Norton’s greenbelt are hand-made wooden tepees, also created with branches. These structures have even taken in a new resident or two.
“One tepee is being occupied by a critter right now and it will be interesting to see if birds take up residence in some of them as well. So, you see the wood structures were a solution to the wood debris problem. One of the best things that came out of this, but I never planned, is that so many people love wood structures. One of the best compliments was from a person who said that it looks like Narnia down there,” she says.
Narnia indeed! The extreme time, attention, and utter determination to refurbish a greenbelt in south Tulsa is not lost on many. Norton’s work has inspired her neighbors and friends to pitch in to help ensure her vision maintains itself. It isn’t just her work, but her passion and creativity that make the greenbelt a magical place.
“For a while I felt like the Lone Ranger down here in the greenbelt, but now I feel like I have a support group with neighbors and the Home Owners Association. Long-term I hope that others will take up my efforts to be good stewards of such a blessing that we have here. Oh, I plan on living until some other nut that likes all the dirty work comes along and takes over for me,” she says.
One thing is for certain: Rebecca Norton’s time and attention to trees, wildlife, and plants has invigorated not only the greenbelt, but those who live near it. She is indeed a true Lady of the Woods.