Tree Lovers of Nashville: Dorothy Holman

Nashville native Dorothy “Dot” Holman is a community activist, author, and a member of Nashville’s Metro Tree Advisory Committee. And she has loved trees her whole life. Read more about her history and how she is spreading the message about tree benefits in our conversation below. Trust us: you will be inspired!

Q: Where are you from, Dot, and how did you get started in activism around trees?

A: I’m a native of Nashville, born and raised in North Nashville. My backyard ran into Hadley Park so I lived and played in the trees and I grew up enjoying trees and that environment, from childhood until adulthood now. And some of the trees out there still alive and in existence and I’m so grateful that I can still see them still flourishing.

One of the things I’ve done here in Nashville is work with Metro Beautification to plant flowers and trees. And I hope we get more of them! The older I get the more I love trees.

Q: What has been your professional history in Nashville over the years?

A: I’ve been a business owner, worked with the Baptist Sunday school board for over 14 years, and worked with the YMCA and retired from there. I’ve also started a Bible ministry and have given away over 5,000 Bibles. We sent them to people in other countries. Also I started a ministry there and they are still doing it today where they give away Bibles. At the Y, I started Ambassadors and we did outreach, going to nursing homes and making connections. We figured out how to get them things they needed like socks and shirts. I oversaw the senior program there and it was a great time of my life.

Q: When do you first remember getting interested in trees, and why are some of the reasons you love them?

A: My love for trees has only grown over time. I love them so much because they are a powerful part of God’s creation. As I got older, I read about them in the Bible and looked at them in a different light. As I looked at them and learned more, I realized that trees are one of God’s most incredible creations. Trees were here before Jesus walked the earth! That is something so amazing to me. After he came to earth, he uses trees in so many examples that we can live by. 

Trees live together in peace. You can just look around and see them living together in peace and harmony and I think we can take a life lesson from that. Trees are short, tall, wide, fat, and all different – just like people. You can also cut a tree down and it continues to grow. If you cut it down, it still has hope, and that’s something we can learn from trees. These things help me walk in my own life. I keep seeing more and more examples about how we can live a better life from trees, and that makes me love them.

In each season of my life, I realize that trees do the same. You get to see a true character of a tree in the winter, and I think it’s beautiful. Same thing applies to people. When people mature, you can see their true character. It’s fascinating to me.

Q: What did you like about trees when you were growing up?

A: I loved them when I was a kid because I didn’t know that they had Biblical principles, but I loved the idea of them going through the seasons when I was a kid. One season they didn’t have leaves and the next season they were full of fruit and flowers. I also loved that they were places for animals to live. You could see animals taking refuge and birds making nests. Trees provide shelter for the homeless – all species. I think that’s very true. I didn’t think about that when I was a kid but that’s another reasons why trees and people need each other.

One tree that I grew up with spoke a lot to me in my life, and it’s still standing. After all it’s been through in all the seasons! I have a great appreciation for that and it’s another lesson. We’re both still standing after all these years and still hanging on.

Q: You’re a Nashville native. How have you noticed our city changing, and our trees along with that change?

A: Nashville has grown but we’ve paid a healthy price for it. You used to be able to see so many trees in a lot and then a month later they’re gone and it’s destroyed. We need trees and well as we need apartments, so it’s important that we also focus on planting new ones. Because we won’t be here, but we’re destroying future generations if we cut too many down without planting new. We have to have apartments to live but we also have to have trees to have oxygen and so much more! It needs to be balanced.

Q: How have you been involved with green space in the city of Nashville?

A: I helped create Nashville’s first mini park. Mayor Fulton worked with me to make it happen. I was living in John Henry Hale, and I was looking out the window at this great big field. And I saw potential: seniors could go out and sit and kids could play. So I met Mayor Fulton and he came over and he looked around. He made the vision come true. I felt like the kids and seniors needed that space.

Q: What would you say to friends and community members to encourage them to plant trees?

A: Trees provide oxygen for us to live. Planting a tree helps generations to come. It’s a decision for the future. We can’t bring other trees back, but we can plant more in their place. We can make sure we have enough on our planet for the upcoming generations.

Q: You’ve written a book about trees, From the Same Soil: Trees and Humans, We Are Alike. What inspired you to write this book?

A: What inspired me to write the book was my daily walk. Seeing how trees provide shelter for the animals. One thing that interests me about trees is how they are the first air conditioners because they provide shade for us. We can take a lesson from that too. So I wanted to write a book to get these ideas out into the world. I hope people can see trees through my eyes and that they never look at trees in the same way again.

Q: You overcame some personal challenges to write this book. Could you tell us more about that?

A: When I was growing up I had a reading disability. It was hard for me to learn how to read words and especially words that were similar like “the” and “that.” My mother didn’t know how to teach me how to tell these kinds of words apart, so she was abusive in trying to reach me how to separate those things. That made it worse, and didn’t help me overcome the disability.

When I got older all the way up to high school, I still had the disability, so I just started surrounding myself with books. I focused on teaching myself how to read. I learned how to read a little better, and a little better. I was traumatized with trying to read and I just decided that I’ve got to do this and I can get over this. I surrounded myself with books.

Q: While writing your book and doing research, what is something surprising that you learned about trees?

A: One of the things is how long they can live. That’s so amazing. Some trees can live 5,000 years! That was mind-blowing that they can live that long. I saw some pictures about how big those trees can grow as well. Trees are the largest living creatures on earth! I didn’t know that, so that was fascinating to learn.

That, and tree stumps, I love. I love that a tree can be cut down and still grow. You can learn from that, that there’s always hope. So matter how low you get in life, with trials and tribulations, there’s always hope.

People and trees have many similarities. We all may not look like Hollywood. We might look different. We might not have all our limbs. But within us, we still all have a purpose. We all have a purpose in life.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I am beginning to work on another book! This one will also be about trees, continuing from my first book.

Hear more from Dot by watching this interview from the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council.

Tree Lovers of Nashville is a series to highlight the amazing advocates and supporters of trees in our city. Want to nominate someone for an interview and blog post? Send a message to meg.morgan@cumberlandrivercompact.org. 

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