Out on a limb……an Arbor day reflection

I don’t think it’s a “figleaf” of my imagination, or going out on a limb, to say trees were a more recognized part of daily living years ago than they are today. Yes, today we understand their importance in “cooling” the atmosphere and producing oxygen to breathe. It is said a large Douglas Fir tree can expose as much as three acres of chlorophyll surface to the sun!  We also appreciate their beauty, but how often are they a conscious part of our daily function? How often in summer do we retreat to the cool of an air conditioned room instead of the filtered shade of an oak tree? Years ago you would eat, sleep, read and visit under a tree. It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “I never before knew the full value of trees. Under them I breakfast, dine, write, read and receive my company.” During the Civil War it was the place to get some “shut eye.” I can just picture in my mind a weary Stonewall Jackson slumped at the base of an oak tree after a forced march of 20 miles dozing off for a few minutes of rest. As a matter of fact, there are stories of a man who served in Stonewall Jackson’s brigade who for the last 30 years of his life had not slept in a house or a bed. Charles Edward Herrell of Virginia died in March of 1904 of pneumonia. He always slept under a tree or in an open shed to the day he died.

In 1854, J. Sterling Morton “branched out” and moved to the Nebraska territory from Detroit. He and his fellow pioneers missed their trees and started planting. Having visited Nebraska myself, I can appreciate their efforts based on the wind break alone that trees would afford. By the late 1800’s, Arbor day was an established tradition and holiday in schools across the country thanks to Nebraska and Mr. Morton. Today the national holiday of Arbor day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. Most states coincide their celebration with this date, but some states celebrate on a different date, more acceptable with their climate. For example, Alaska and Maine celebrate the 3rd week in May and Hawaii the first Friday in November.

Today trees are planted in the manicured landscapes and lawns of our yards. A good thing, but to a degree a little unnatural. Think about trees in the forest. They have a floor layer consisting of decomposing leaves, animal droppings, moss, dead plant material, ferns, rotting organic matter. The understory is shrubs and trees adapted to living in the shade of the canopy. In the canopy, the larger dominant trees form an umbrella and soak up most of the available sunlight. Think about this when caring for your yard trees. In an environment where we “clean up debris”, feed them with a good organic fertilizer along the drip line. Maybe avoid trying to grow grass directly under the tree, and apply a 1 or 2 inch layer of mulch or groundcover under its canopy. Then sometime this summer, turn off the air conditioner and take a nap under the tree just like our ancestors of years ago and appreciate it’s natural comforts. The way I see it, trees root for us, we need to celebrate a wonder of God’s creation and root for them too!