When I flew in to Joplin, I gasped as I saw the massive scar in the landscape left by the tornado. It was a mile wide and several miles long. From that perspective
high above the city, all that I could see was the destruction. But on the ground, a different picture emerged.
Key community members shared their stories and those of the community. Chris Cotten, head of Parks and Recreation for Joplin, was one of them. I quickly began to see
what he saw: hope, hard work, and resilience were everywhere. And then I heard about the butterflies. Many community members told us stories of how the butterflies
had saved them. Children told stories of being protected by them – like angels – while the destruction roared around them. I was captivated; but we weren’t the only ones
who saw nature as a potential piece of the town’s recovery.
Just after the tornado hit, the NYTimes ran a series of haunting images, including ones of Cunningham Park, showing a devastated landscape; mangled trees that had
been stripped of their canopies and bark. These caught the eye of Cornell University’s Keith Tidball, who dropped everything to go to Joplin and, in his words, begin
planting. A researcher and author, Keith has done some amazing work and spent years studying how nature can be a source of resilience for communities in crisis. He
had been working in post-Katrina New Orleans just prior to the tornado.
Keith connected with Chris Cotten, Joplin’s Director of Parks and Recreation, and the idea for the garden was born. They worked quickly, with the support of the TKF
Foundation, where I serve as a board member, to assemble a diverse team that included architects, psychologists, musical therapists and urban planners.