John Metzler’s tree is a fern-leaf beech, newly planted yesterday in Allegheny Commons Park. More than 100 people turned out for the memorial event in honor of a noble and sweet man who was cut down at 46.
My dog sniffed all over the ground around it last night; she now knows what tears smell like.
John’s family and a host of friends — environmentalists, artists, architects, musicians among them — gathered on a knoll near Lake Elizabeth around noon. Across the lake, a lone bagpiper played.
Danielle Crumrine, Caitlin Lenahan and Matt Erb of Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest planted the tree. They were all John’s friends. They had brought dozens of black walnut seedlings people could take to plant in John's honor.
Kyle Ethan Fischer gave the blessing, comparing John to a maple tree — awaking to the spring ahead of other trees. His mother, Eileen McCann, spoke about how his compassion was shaped by a life of ups and downs. His friend Thistle Elias said how grateful she was that John and his fledgling business, the Urban Tree Forge*, was able to set up at the same place where she and her husband Craig had operated Elias Studios.
His cousin Geoff Metzler spoke and his friend and fellow Forge artist Mike Hammer played a song he had written for John. John’s friend Jesse Ritter talked about their 30-year friendship that picked right back up where it was left during a 10 year absence.
John’s soulmate, Randie Snow, read a poem. It was about how people should live like trees — going out on a limb, soaking up sunshine and enjoying the view.
Chris Nacy played the final lament, on blues harmonica.
I met John in Allegheny Commons Park in March, when he was strolling among fallen trunks and limbs, assessing their possible use as art or furniture — or both. He agreed to some interviews for a story about the Urban Tree Forge, which ran in the Magazine section of the Post-Gazette on May 2. He wrote me an e-mail, saying he hoped he could handle the responses he would get; a lot of people called me to reach him. They wanted to see the showroom at the Forge. They wanted to donate fallen trees.
Eleven days later, John was killed. Working on a tree trunk on his parking lot off Washington Boulevard — wearing earphones and operating a power saw — he was struck by a U-Haul attachment that somehow got loose from the vehicle towing it.
The artists at the Forge haven’t figured out yet what its future will be. Everyone still wears a look of shock.
I had met with John exactly three times, but I wandered out to the tree-planting yesterday with the burning eyes and heavy heart of someone who knew him well. Some people have that kind of effect on you. His power was his passion, but he wore it sweetly.
The tree is graceful. It ruffles in the breeze. It has a nice ring of mulch. I will walk past it every day, saying a little prayer that it lives a very very long life.
* The motto of the Forge is "Know trees, know life; no trees, no life."