This Arbor Day, or any day, plant a tree in honor of a tree you have loved or love now. If you, I, and everyone else did this, we could reforest Earth.
There are infinite reasons that people love trees. Here are a few of my own.
When I visit a park on a hot sunny day, the tree with the biggest canopy providing the most shade draws me towards it. I stand in awe when I spot a majestic hawk perched on a branch in a Monterey pine tree outside my dining room window. The memory of biting into fresh juicy peaches that I picked from the trees in our back yard when I was a kid is still fresh in my mind. Watching the birds flit from tree to tree in our yard in a dizzying pattern is always entertaining. When I look up at the giant trees in a redwood forest, I feel a sense of wonder and peace.
Pause here for a few minutes to envision the trees in your own life.
Before we talk more about trees, perhaps an Arbor Day history refresher would be helpful.
Arbor Day and Its Founder
This year, Arbor Day is even more fun for me because last September I visited Nebraska City, Nebraska, the home of Arbor Day, with two wonderful long-time friends. I also recently finished reading a biography written by James C. Olson about its founder J. Sterling Morton.
J. Sterling Morton
Julius Sterling Morton, called J. Sterling Morton so as not be confused with his father Julius Dewey Morton, was born on April 22, 1832, and lived to be 70. He grew up in Monroe, Michigan. At 22, he and his new wife Caroline Joy French headed to the wide-open plains of Nebraska where Morton hoped to become famous and wealthy.
During his life, Morton was a farmer, newspaper editor, political candidate, railroad lobbyist, and did a brief stint as the acting Governor for the Territory of Nebraska. He was a staunch believer that Nebraska could and should be an agricultural powerhouse. Planting both fruit and forest trees were essential to his mission.
Morton and his tree-planting advocacy led to the first Arbor Day on Wednesday, April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Now, almost 150 years later, tree enthusiasts all over the world plant trees for Arbor Day.
This photo shows J. Sterling Morton sitting in a chair in his office in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 1895, during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during President Grover Cleveland’s administration.
Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum.
During his four years as Secretary, Morton endeavored to bring fiscal responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and he did. He was also responsible for expanding the number of jobs classified as civil service to ensure operational continuity when a new president came into office and appointed new leadership.
In 1898, Morton founded a weekly newspaper called The Conservative, which kept him active and writing until the end of his life in 1902.
My impression of J. Sterling Morton is that he was opinionated, ambitious, stubborn, loyal, and honest. He was a Democrat and a racist that dearly loved his wife and family.
Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge
Nowadays, Arbor Day Farm is a tourist attraction with orchards, outdoor trails, and year-round events. The grounds contain a greenhouse, tree shipping operation, movie theater, gift shop, and a cafe. The day we visited, it was sunny and hot. An apple cider float from the cafe tasted delicious and was delightfully cool.
Nearby, we toured Arbor Lodge where J. Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline raised four sons and farmed on 160 acres of land.
Reading the biography was interesting because it gave me a glimpse of life on the Nebraska frontier in the mid to late 19th century as seen through the eyes of Morton. It was entertaining, too, mostly because I have actually visited some of the places referred to in the book.
For instance, my friends and I stayed in Bellevue, where Morton and his wife lived for several months when they first arrived from Michigan. We also visited Omaha the site of much of the political intrigue in the book
The first house built by the Morton’s was more or less a log cabin. They serially remodeled the house into a stately mansion they called Arbor Lodge. My friends and I took a guided tour through Arbor Lodge, which is now a museum and historical state park. We walked around the study where Morton wrote his letters, speeches, and newspaper articles. Many of these provided reference material for the James C. Olson book I spotted in the tiny gift shop area and bought.
Besides spending time with my friends and meeting a bison face-to-face, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge.
I hope you feel more informed about Arbor Day and its founder J. Sterling Morton. Now, let’s talk trees.
Monterey Pine Seedling Project
My Arbor Day 2019 celebration began in February when I planted twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in my yard, which is in the midst of a beautiful yet struggling Monterey pine forest. I recounted the planting experience in the post, entitled Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees. In this post, we will look at how the seedlings are doing two months later and how I dealt with unanticipated challenges that I probably should have anticipated.
I knew I would need to regularly check on the seedlings and water them during their first year or so of living in their new locations. We have no irrigation system so that means me making numerous trips around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water.
While I was planting the seedlings, I realized that I would need some kind of a marker to put near the seedlings or I might never be able to find them again once the wild grasses grew over a foot tall. Here the grass will get to be four to six feet tall so you can probably imagine the problem of trying to spot a tiny, also green, tree seedling amidst a sea of grass.
My spouse offered to make some markers but we could not find any suitable material on hand. We purchased four-foot long slender bamboo poles at our local nursery. My spouse attached little pieces of cloth from a worn out t-shirt on the top of each pole to act like a flag.
In early March, we walked around the yard to the areas that we knew we had planted the seedlings in groups and tapped a marker into the soil beside each one. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate one of the seedlings so we were down to nineteen.
Next, it occurred to me that the seedlings might appreciate some breathing room from the competing grasses so I decided to weed a small circle around each one and then spread wood chips to help keep moisture in the soil. My spouse and I hand weeded and used the smaller of our two weed whackers to clear space around the seedlings.
One of the seedlings had an accident so now we were down to eighteen.
Fortunately, I spotted this tiny tree volunteering to grow near some of the seedlings we had planted. I do not think it is a Monterey pine but we adopted it into the fold. Now we are back to nineteen seedlings.
Whew, we could sit back and relax.
Not long after, one day as I was admiring the grasses waving in the wind, I realized that even if I could spot the flags, I would have to bushwhack my way through the grasses carrying 16 pounds of water every time I gave the tree seedlings a drink.
This time we cracked out the big electric weed whacker to clear paths through the now 4-foot tall grasses. The tree seedlings seem happy.
Okay, now we can sit back and relax until it is time to make the rounds again with the watering can.
Earth Day and Arbor Day Combined
Just yesterday, at an Earth Day event in our town I met up with Rick Hawley from Greenspace, again. He is the guy I met at the January Cambria Forest Committee meeting that led to our Monterey pine tree seedling project. At the meeting, he was displaying a rack of 98 itsy bitsy seedlings he had grown from seeds. I coveted them.
Now, I have my own rack of 98 Monterey pine seeds I just planted. I hope they will all germinate and grow into seedlings for planting in a nearby forest area that needs trees.
The native plants that I am growing from seeds welcomed their new friends onto the deck outside our dining room.
Of course, you can choose to celebrate Arbor Day however, you wish. I hope you will join millions of tree huggers and me who are demonstrating our love of trees and people by planting tree seeds, seedlings, and trees in our yards, parks, and forests.
Featured Image at Top: The Morton Oak, the lone survivor of what was once an oak savanna. This photo and the photos of Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm are courtesy of Arbor Day Farm.
- Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts
- Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree
- Arbor Day 2014 – Plant a Tree in Your Yard
- Arbor Day 2013 – Plant a Tree
- A Sand County Almanac – Book Review
- Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees
- Native Plants Add Beauty and Habit to Your Yard
- The Hidden Life of Trees – Book Review
- The Legacy of Luna – Book Review
- The Lorax – Book Review
- Arbor Day Farm
- Arbor Day Foundation
- J. Sterling Morton – by James C. Olson, University of Nebraska Press, 1942 (first printing), The Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation, 1972 (second printing)
- The Morton Arboretum