Plant a tree, watch it grow

EVERETT – In Phil Taylor’s heart, there is always an image of a tree.

A tree that reminds him of his childhood, forests and those sweet summers he spent with his family in the mountains.

For three years now, the 62-year-old Boeing retiree has volunteered to plant trees and remove invasive non-native plants for the Stilly Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force. The nonprofit group helps to restore nature habitat.

“He is so willing to give,” said Ann Boyce, executive director of the group. “He just seems like he is ready to help any time.”

On a recent workday, the task force’s mission was to remove ivy that had crept all over the Forgotten Creek area in Everett.

A bird whispered, Taylor let go of the English ivy in his hands and looked up to a tree, searching for the bird.

“When you open the soil, there is a very earthy smell,” said Taylor of Tulalip. He dug out the root of the ivy and cut it off.

In the past three years, Taylor, along with other volunteers, have planted more than 3,000 trees.

“People like him make you realize that you’re not alone,” said Jen Murphy of Everett. She didn’t expect someone to drive down from Tulalip to restore a creek in Everett. “It keeps me motivated.”

Growing up on a farm in Yakima, Taylor learned to milk cows, feed sheep and separate butter fat from the milk to sell to the creamery.

Every summer, the Taylor family would go fishing and camping in the Cascade mountains.

“As a young boy, I used to sit on top of the ridge and look down the forest,” he said. “It’s very rejuvenating. I can’t describe that feeling.”

The older he grew and the more places he traveled, the fewer trees he saw.

“It’s an emotional hurt,” Taylor said.

So he plants trees – lots of them – hoping that one day a person from a city can feel the same way about trees as he did as a young boy.

“I know it’s going to take 20 or 30 years for those trees to grow and I might not live long enough to see it,” said Taylor, who moved to Snohomish County about 30 years ago. “But I would like to give that feeling to someone else. That’s why I do what I do.”

Taylor and his wife, Brenda Taylor, walk six miles every Sunday to pick up garbage and beer cans near their neighborhood.

Soon, others followed.

“It’s kind of funny that people seem to need to know, by watching us, that it’s OK to pick up the garbage themselves,” said Brenda Taylor, a master gardener.

The couple jokingly talked about another reason that keeps Taylor planting trees.

“I told him that he better find something to do to entertain himself after he retired because I’m not going to entertain him,” Brenda said.

For Phil Taylor, planting trees and watching them grow is more than just entertaining.

In his mind, he envisions this very tall, green tree that’s big enough for eagles and other animals to nest.

“It’s very satisfying to imagine that one day they will become monsters and people will be able to walk in between them,” he said.

Along with other organizations, members of the Stilly Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force will celebrate Earth Day by hosting two festivities at 10 a.m. Saturday at Jennings Nature Park and Snohomish River Estuary in Marysville.

Activities include planting native trees, removing invasive weeds, bird-watching, water-quality testing and more. Call 425-252-6686 for more information and directions.

Reporter Tieh-Pai Chen: 425-339-3432 or

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