Genuine Cedar of Lebanon finds home here

What started as a five-month photographic tour for Fadi BouKaram through all the Lebanons in the U.S. has now come full circle two years later.

BouKaram, of Lebanon the country, made his first stop in Lebanon in October 2016, and it was his last stop in October of this year during a return trip. He visited Mayor Paul Aziz’s residence Oct. 30 to drop off a genuine Cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) tree for the city. 

During his first journey, the photographer was on a mission of exploration and perhaps a little self-reflection as he traveled to each Lebanon municipality across the states. He was also searching for Cedar of Lebanon trees gifted from his country to seven Lebanon mayors in 1955, including Ralph Scroggin of Oregon.

“It was the best trip ever because I got to see a side of the country that I didn’t know about,” he said. 

South Dakota was the strangest Lebanon he visited, he said, but it also had the nicest folks. The town has a population of 26 and Wednesday is dart night at the bar, which is owned by the municipality.

On his return trip, residents invited him to dart night and said the town would be there.

“When they say the town’s gonna be there, that means it was the whole town, minus two who are minors. And the bartenders – barmaids, I guess – are three women who take shifts and they’re all in their 70s. They’ve been running the place since the 1970s.”

BouKaram’s visit this year was a chance to reconnect with the people he met two years ago, but his mission this time was to replace the cedar trees he had learned were missing. 

The president of his country in 1955, Camille Chamoun, gave the mayors two trees each and they had to be quarantined for two years at a nursery in Ohio, but something must have happened to them because every tree BouKaram found on his first visit was a juniper tree, not a cedar, he said. 

Every town, that is, except Lebanon, Ohio, which has their cedrus libani growing at their train station.

He suspects the nursery gave out juniper trees, which look similar to cedars, in an attempt to cover up the problem.

When he planned this trip to gift the trees, BouKaram decided to reverse his original route, and instead of doing it in wintertime, he’d do it in summertime. 

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to do winter, because winter was rough’,” he said. 

It was 10 degrees and snowing by the time he’d made it to Tennessee in 2016, but this trip was equally difficult. While in New Mexico in July, it was 115 degrees and the air conditioner in his van wasn’t working.

The trees BouKaram gave to the seven Lebanon towns came from a nursery in Bethlehem, Penn. called Trees of Joy, owned by a Lebanese-American who brings the seeds from the country of Lebanon.

The tree handed over to Aziz is 3 years old and will stay with the mayor until a suitable place can be found for it, Aziz said.

While BouKaram and Aziz visited, they talked about the mayor’s own relation to the Middle East. His grandfather, Abraham Aziz, lived in Jerusalem in the 1920s and emigrated to the U.S. to escape persecution as a Greek Orthodox.

His grandmother, Mary Aziz, was from Austria and fled to the U.S. during World War I. The two met in America, and among their four children was the mayor’s father, Edmund.

Read more about BouKaram in our original story at LebanonLocalNews.com/Photographer-seeks-connection-with-namesakes-of-his-homeland-in-the-u-s-a, and LebanonLocalNews.com/Search-for-cedar-of-Lebanon-proves-fruitless-thus-far.

Read BouKaram’s blog at LebanonUSA.com.