Julie Johnson was a fellow student at Warren Wilson College in the mountains of North Carolina. She was tall, lanky, and had long blond hair that she wore in braids. I found her fascinating. Like many of the students there, she was down-to-earth and loved nature. In fact, she could have been a spokeswoman for Mother Nature—or Going Green, long before that term was coined. She was so passionate about the environment that she tended to espouse her views freely, which would sometimes rub folks the wrong way.
My roommate—who worked as a janitor— came back to the dorm one evening complaining that Julie had suggested (to the head of janitorial services) that trash bags be emptied, washed out and reused. These were industrial bags…at a college. (Eek.) The janitorial staff mutinied.
Julie and I crossed paths once while hiking in the woods near campus. She showed me what a sassafras tree looked like; how the leaves were in a group of three: oval, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed. How, if you broke a stem and smelled it, it smelled like root beer. As we chatted, I noticed two things: she was thinner than usual, and had dark circles under her eyes. Not long after that, she became ill and had to drop out of college. Word eventually reached us that she had been diagnosed with leukemia and was undergoing chemotherapy.
It was heartbreaking.
I saw her for the last time a year later when she came for a short visit. She wore a white head scarf, and seemed frail and other-worldly delicate. She died a few months later. Her dorm-mates raised money and bought a beautiful redbud tree that was planted in a prominent location. A fitting tribute to a young woman who had devoted her short life to raising awareness of the environment.
My memories of Julie are three-dimensional: student, friend, and activist.
(Oval, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed. Like Sassafras.)