Face Masks Growing on Trees at Canby Park

“Where do you even get a face mask?” It’s a question that, no doubt, stumped many in seven of Oregon’s most populous counties this week — including Clackamas — after the governor’s surprise announcement mandating that face coverings be worn in indoor spaces to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

And, I mean, it’s a fair question. It’s not like they grow on trees. Well — not outside of Canby, anyway.

In the Garden Spot, a tree in Wait Park is exactly where you can go to find a free face mask, thanks to a small group of caring souls led by local resident Karri Anne Rawlings.

“I felt I needed to do my part for the community,” Rawlings said. “Every time I see another death from Covid, it kills me and I break down crying. I mean, if this one simple thing helps others live, that’s what I wanted to do.”

A tree on Northwest Third Avenue in Wait Park was transformed into a “mask tree” this week. Photo courtesy Karri Anne Rawlings.

Public health officials at the local, state and national levels have long advocated the use of face coverings to slow the spread of Covid-19, touting their ability to limit the risk of asymptomatic carriers spreading the virus to others.

But it has taken root as a particularly bitter, often partisan flashpoint for those who believe they are ineffective or perhaps even detrimental to health — or who simply don’t like the government telling them what to do.

Fights over masks have become commonplace on social media, but have also spilled into the public sphere with a number of documented confrontations across the country — some of them even deadly. Several mask mandates in other states have been reversed after residents threatened violence.

Rawlings, who has lupus and Crohn’s disease, said she self-isolates most of the time due to having a compromised immune system, but said she enjoyed getting out briefly Saturday to “do [her] part” in setting up the mask tree.

With how polarizing the topic has become, she admits that she wasn’t sure how people would react to her little project. But, not to go out on a limb here, it has been well-received.

“Some people online can be cruel when they don’t like something,” she said. “But I decided to do this anyway because I know a lot of people appreciate it. I’ve gotten messages from people I don’t even know thanking me, and it feels really good knowing I made just one person smile during such a hard time in life.”

To her, seeing someone else wearing a mask is not a political statement — it’s a simple sign of caring about others, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society.

“I love seeing the community wearing masks,” she said. “It makes me feel like they care about me and others who may not be as healthy as they are.”

The tree started with 60, in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes. The masks were donated by Rawlings, Canby Now Facebook group administrator Lisa Leir and other residents.

But by Saturday night, it had practically been picked clean, and those looking to spruce up their collection of face acoutrements were left disappointed.

Rawlings said she would add more, but she’s also more than willing to branch out for help, welcoming the community to contribute to the effort.

In which case, I guess you could call it a “take one, leave one” model.

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