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Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree

Linda Poppenheimer The Unlikely Environmentalist at Green Groundswell
Author hugging a tiny fir tree on Mount St. Helens, WA in August 2014

In honor of National Arbor Day on April 28, 2017, hug a tree and then plant a tree.

“He who plants a tree plants a hope.” —Lucy Larcom

Arbor Day Beginnings

Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska pioneer from Detroit, Michigan was instrumental in bringing about the first Arbor Day. He advocated planting trees for practical reasons and probably because he and other pioneers missed the trees they had left behind in their more forested native states. The first Arbor Day was on April 10, 1872. Nebraska gained nearly a million trees that day.

The Arbor Day movement grew and spread to other states and to other countries. At some point, the last Friday in April became the official day to observe National Arbor Day. However, dates vary by state and country to coincide with the best tree-planting weather.

Trees Give Life

Trees are beautiful in their own right. They collaborate with other trees, plants, and wildlife to form complex and self-sustaining ecosystems. People know that trees are important but we do not necessarily understand how everything ties together.

Long before people came along, trees were growing in most places on Earth.

Once we arrived on the scene, our ancestors soon discovered how to make use of trees whether it was just enjoying their shade on a hot day, harvesting fruit or nuts for food, or gathering twigs and branches and burning them for heat and cooking.

At some point, people realized they could cut down trees and make a myriad of things from wood like buildings, furniture, and paper. We also figured out that certain trees contain medicinal properties and produce useful items like latex and resin. Later we learned about how trees grow and function, that they take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, store carbon, prevent erosion, filter water, and influence rainfall.

So you would think, or at least I would, that we would protect the trees growing now and replace the trees that have been lost through natural causes or our own folly.

I am trying to do my part on our little plot of land and supporting tree planting in other areas. Please do your part by either planting a tree yourself or enabling someone else to plant one on your behalf.

I was a Tree Hugger before I became a Tree Hugger

Trees have always been fascinating to me. Each one is unique. Trees are beautiful swaying in the wind or silhouetted black against a fading sunset. They make their own music with the rustling of dry leaves, the whispering of pine needles, or the roaring of trees whipping back and forth in a windstorm.

Trees are smart working with other nature community members to the benefit of the whole. They are also competitive and strong. The trees that grow towards the sun and spread their branches the fastest get the most sunlight. If injury or illness befalls a tree, it will attempt to heal itself even giving up a limb if necessary.

I talk to trees and I have hugged quite a few trees. It would be cool if trees could talk to people. Maybe trees can talk, but we do not understand their language, yet, or perhaps they choose not to talk with us.

It would be interesting to hear the stories trees could tell about what has occurred around the location they have occupied for decades or even centuries.

Imagine living your entire life in the same location. I do not mean the same house or the same town I mean the same exact spot. That is what a tree does.

A bird, bee, animal, the wind, or gravity transports tree pollen or seeds to a location. If something or someone does not eat it and the conditions are favorable, a tiny seedling sprouts. Healthy soil, adequate water, sufficient sunlight, lack of predators, and genetics all contribute to helping the tree grow and live to a ripe old age. When the tree dies, it nurtures the soil and wildlife where it lived, completing the circle.

I observe trees and wonder about things like how does a tree feel when its neighbor falls over in a storm and ends up tangled in its branches. Is the tree wishing it could shrug off the fallen tree? Does it try communicating the tree equivalent of “Please get off me?”

Does a tree feel sad when a tree that has been standing next to it for 75 years dries up and withers away during a drought? Does it feel survivor guilt? When seedlings appear beneath a grown tree, does it happily welcome them as new members of the family?

Where I live now, in the heart of struggling forest of Monterey pine trees that have suffered 5 years of severe drought, I feel bereft whenever a tree dies and joy whenever I spot a new seedling.

I love trees, yet I am a heavy user of wood and paper. What can I do? What can you do?

  1. Go hug a few trees and thank them for everything they give us.
  2. Be mindful and grateful for the things you use that are made of wood and paper, and do not waste them.
  3. Make planting at least one tree an annual tradition. If you cannot plant a tree yourself, then support someone who can. If Arbor Day is not a good tree-planting day where you live, then pick a day that is.

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets. To plant a pine, one need only own a shovel.” —Aldo Leopold

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