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Trees are an inspiration – and a call to action

I’ve been thinking about trees lately. Big, glorious, canopied, forests of trees. My interest was piqued last year when I read one of my favorite novels, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist fancies that trees have magical mystical qualities that reach back to the dawn of time. I like thinking that. He challenges us to re-imagine our place in our world…and our respect for living things. It’s an epic novel that tears at the heartstrings and it turned my views upside down as I expanded my thoughts about the importance of trees throughout history and their place in a variety of cultures.

One of the book’s characters says, “She tries to turn the story on its head. This is not our world with trees in it. It’s a world of trees, where humans just arrived.”

That’s particular fodder for thought as I saunter through my favorite forest glade. It is always so special there. And I am in the trees’ world.

Or, this quote from the book: “Trees know when we are close by. The chemistry of their roots and the perfume of their leaves pump out changes when we’re near…when you feel good after a walk in the woods, it may be that certain species are bribing you.” Really? I must like the big oaks’ bribes best since I am headiest around them.

And another from the book: “A tree is a passage between earth and sky”.

How many times have I let my gaze drift from the ground level show of the forest understory to the sky, going up, up, up the tree trunk and its branches through the overstory until my eyes rest in the heavens? Too many to count, and I will continue to do it every chance I get. It’s great stuff.

One of my favorite places is called “Adohi-Kanti”, (The name means “The Forest Sings”). At my friend’s special woodland retreat in upstate New York, there is a place called the “Palm of God” a ring of birch trees tightly clustered together. There is nothing like slipping into the middle of that circle, laying on your back and gazing up, up, up. Time slips away, troubles disappear, and the soul soars.

Newly inspired by my newly read novel, I looked carefully at the advertisements this week for the Arbor Day sale for tree seedlings. It takes place every March. Our family has bought seedlings in the past and has dutifully cared for our little trees through the years. There is something special about being a “Johnny Appleseed”, the legendary frontiersman who according to folklore, planted apple trees throughout the eastern half of the country. Do you suppose that most apple trees in our area are here because of him? I like to think so. Perhaps that’s the romantic in me. I want to be Johnny Appleseed!

But there is so much more to the immense vision of the National Arbor Day Foundation these days than planting a few neighborhood trees. It’s an expansive thought, yet I sense an urgency on their webpage.

There, the National Arbor Day Foundation makes a bold call to action. It declares, “Now is the time. The time for trees. Trees provide the very necessities of life itself. They clean our air, protect our drinking water, create healthy communities, and feed the human soul. But these life necessities are threatened around the globe. To address this, we’re launching an unprecedented undertaking: The Time for Trees initiative. Together we can create change…through trees.”

The National Arbor Day Foundation’s declaration is vast. They intend to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities and to inspire 5 million new tree planters (Johnny Appleseeds, so to speak) by 2022–the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day.

And truthfully, they can only do that if we all sign on.

Globally, approximately, 18 million acres of forest are lost each year to a variety of causes, from insects, to wildfires, to disease and climate change. Carbon emissions continue to rise as urbanization and today’s cultures evolve. Even my town of Wellsboro isn’t immune. We flunked an air quality study a few years ago.

But trees really can make a difference. Here is why it is so critical for all of us to get on board with the National Arbor Day Foundation’s goals. According to their statistics, over the lifespan of 100 million trees, those trees can absorb 8 million tons of carbon, the equivalent of taking 6.2 million cars off the road for a year. Trees filter enough microscopic airborne particulate matter out of the air to fill nine Olympic-size swimming pools. Trees remove enough chemical air pollution from our atmosphere to fill 70,000 Goodyear blimps. And lastly, trees filter enough water run-off to fill the water bottle of every person on Earth every day for five years.

Did you know that forest restoration is the number one strategy for stopping Global Warming, according to some scientists? In November 2019, the Crowther Lab in Switzerland announced that forest restoration is THE top strategy to combat climate change.

The United Kingdom has already started initiatives to reforest the Northern Forest, across the northern part of England. Ireland, which has a reputation for being lushly forested has just announced that its government will plant 22 million trees every year for the next 20 years, because the current tree canopy there does not offset its own carbon emissions. Their ultimate goal is to plant 440 million trees! Scotland has already planted 22 million trees. And according to Smithsonian Magazine, people in Ethiopia planted nearly 350 million trees in a single day last year.

Science journal, in July 2019. reported that planting more than 500 billion trees across the globe could offset much of the carbon in our atmosphere. The Trillion Trees Project was highlighted in our country’s “State of the Union” address this year so perhaps our country too will get on board.

Although it is a mighty ambitious goal, experts believe wholeheartedly that WE are who will make it happen. If all landowners would plant trees on some of their land, Irish government official, Lee Varadkar points out, the goal would be achievable.

I talked to Erica Tomlinson, District Manager, at the Pennsylvania Conservation District Office about all of this. She agrees with the need to plant trees, but cautions us that all trees are not created equal, nor are all locations.

She encourages folks to talk to the local Conservation District experts in their home county. Check out your county government’s directory for the location and phone number of the local office and ask for their help. Our local office states that its mission is to take available financial, technical, and educational resources and focus or coordinate them to meet the needs of the local land manager, for the conservation of soil, water, and related resources.

Another great place to get some advice is the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources, Department of Forestry. Not only will they have information, they often have projects for local organizations and volunteers to do.

Erica pointed out that planting the right tree at the right place is a synergistic thing. She says, “Plant a native tree near a stream and watch what happens. That one act on your part has so many benefits for both the stream and the tree. It can be good for the tree’s survivability, but it can be good for the stream and its inhabitants, too.”

Erica and her staff are the coordinators of the Tioga County Tree Sale Event. Order forms are available that offer 10-36 inch tall deciduous varieties of trees including black cherry, sycamore, red oak, black walnut, silky dogwood, black chokecherry, and persimmon. Or if you really want to be a Johnny Appleseed, order 4-5 foot tall honey crisp or pink lady apple trees. Peach trees, 12-18 inch tall blueberries, and 12-14 inch tall raspberries are also available. Orders and payment are due by March 20, 2020. Pick up dates are April 22 and 23 at the Tioga County Fair Grounds. Order forms are available through them at 570-724-1801.

Erica’s last point is this: “People think that forests need trees, and they do, but towns like ours need trees too. So, consider planting in suburban areas too.” Trees reduce air pollution, lower urban temperatures, help manage stormwater runoff, and bolster communities.

Wellsboro, where I live, has been part of the Tree City USA initiative for the last 23 years. Mansfield, Bloomsburg, and Selinsgrove are also part of the program which celebrates the commitment to maintain the standards of providing an urban tree canopy in the community. One look at Wellsboro’s beautiful tree-lined Main Street and our historic district avenues reinforces that trees make a town better.

One of the most exceptional quotes from “The Overstory” hearkens back to an old Chinese proverb. It asks the question; “When is the best time to plant a tree”. The traditional answer is “Twenty years ago”.

But the book continues on with another thought. “When is the second best time?” The answer is “Now”.

Want to plant some little trees as an investment in our future? You betcha!

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