Commanded by Angels to Preserve the Earth's Canopy

In honor of Earth Day, read how a near-death experience inspired a Michigan tree farmer to launch a reforestation project.

By David Milarch, Copemish, Michigan

As appeared in

But what was the work I was supposed to do? “Wait! Wait!” I shouted, suddenly sitting upright.

“David, what’s wrong?” Kerry said, taking my hand.

It took a moment for me to know where I was. “It’s nothing,” I said. “But I know I’m going to get better. There were angels...”

Kerry squeezed my hand. “Don’t talk,” she said. “You’re so weak.”

Day by day, week by week, my body healed. It wasn’t easy. But every morning and night, I saw a small white glow near the ceiling. I lived for those moments, an assurance that God was still with me. What is the work he wants from me? I wondered. It made me nervous, not knowing. What if I can’t do it?

But there was no further instruction. By fall I was strong enough to get out of bed. One day, with halting steps, I went out to the porch and sat in a lawn chair. Everything seemed more alive than I remembered it, the chickadees, jays and finches singing so joyfully from their perches in the trees.

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I could almost sense what they were feeling—there was gladness and celebration, an energy about them, but also an unease—something not right in their world. It was amazing, like I was getting a glimpse behind a magical curtain.

Could this be what God meant for me? To be more in tune with nature? I could do that. It was kind of nice actually.

But that wasn’t the only change. I had no interest in alcohol. I got misty-eyed just sitting outside with the birds, working next to our sons on the farm, eating one of Kerry’s home-cooked meals. I had a tenderness and compassion I’d never felt before. I couldn’t understand it. Why was this happening to me?

Then one winter night I awoke just after 1:00 a.m., surprised to find the bedroom lit by the warm glow that had given me such comfort. The light grew brighter and brighter until it was blinding. I covered my eyes with my hands, but it barely made a difference.

Kerry was sound asleep by my side. “Okay, I’m listening,” I said. “Just tell me what I need to do.”

A soft, warm female voice said, “Get a pad and pen and go to the living room.”

I rose out of bed, found a legal pad and a pen and sat nervously on the edge of my leather chair. But the voice was gone. My eyes grew heavy. I awoke with a start and looked at the clock. 5:55 a.m. But what about...I looked down at the pad in my lap. Page after page, filled with a detailed, formal outline.

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I stared in wonder at the words: Dying trees. Champion species. Cloning. Reforesting. It was my handwriting, but nothing I’d ever even thought about. I had no memory of taking any of it down.

My heart raced as I read through what I’d written. The earth’s trees and forests getting sicker, weakened by pollution, drought, disease and bugs able to survive the warmer winters.

I was to clone the biggest, strongest, hardiest trees—trees that had lived hundreds, even thousands of years—so the world could one day be restored to its natural order by the giants of the forest. I felt like Noah, a simple man told to become a shipbuilder and a zookeeper and...

There had to have been a mistake. I wasn’t a scientist. I didn’t know the first thing about cloning or the environment. Where to even begin?

I needed help, a second opinion. I went to Jared’s room and shook him awake. “I need you to read this and tell me what you think,” I said.

Jared’s eyes opened wide as he read. “Dad, this is amazing,” he said.

“Can I help? We need to do this.”

“You really think we can?” I said.

“Why not?” he said. “You’re always saying nothing’s impossible.”

That summer, nearly a year after the angels first visited me, Jared and I collected our first DNA from a sugar maple, after learning the technique from researchers in Oregon. Seventeen years later my original outline became a reality.

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It’s grown from my family and me into a nonprofit with nearly a dozen employees and volunteers, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.