Earth Day was jogged into my consciousness this past week when a National Geographic photo essay on Ancient Trees popped up on Facebook. The photographic collection by Beth Moon was of ancient trees from many lands. Each had their own story to tell in the history of the land in which they had grown. A yew tree with a girth of 31 feet in Surrey, England with an age of 1500 years was found to have a cannon ball buried in her from the English Civil War. A baobab tree shaped in the form of a teapot whose trunk is 41 feet in circumference has grown on the west coast of Madagascar for 1200 years.
The trees in the essay stirred in my mind all the trees I have come to know in my history. As a New Yorker my first acquaintance with trees was in Central Park. As a high schooler, five of us walked across Manhattan from the East Side to Commerce High on the West Side through Central Park for three years. This was our encounter with the natural world. In adulthood there were the hemlocks on a lake island where we vacationed in northern Wisconsin. The acacia tree pictured in this blog stood in front of our house in central Manila. Son Scott, a plant geneticist, tells me there are 1200 species of acacias in Australia. Then there were the trees in our backyard in Louisville, Kentucky which were visited by at least twenty-five different species of birds. For an old New Yorker, who know only pigeons and sparrows, this was a new slice of life.
So it is that trees play a special role in our lives. A cousin wrote me recently about what the loss of trees meant to her in her Minnesota home. “Three times when I had some part of the woods cleaned up, I lost a species of birds that never came back: an old log…was the favorite pecking place for the brown thrasher, the brush pile…was home to chattering blue jays and the tall thin oaks…were where the rose breasted grosbeaks perched before gliding down to the feeder outside the kitchen window.” She goes on to tell about the grove of trees her father had planted as a wind break on the farm and a cottonwood tree in which a redheaded woodpecker lived. “One day a woodsman…offered to take down the old trees free for wood. When I demurred because of the woodpecker, he said: ‘So you are one of those!!'”
On this upcoming Earth Day we need more people “who are one of those” in the world. We need people who think twice about the loss of our natural habitat. Trees have a special place in the preservation of life on this plant. They have been with us a long time. They keep us alive in the process of osmosis and photosynthesis, which were among the first things we learned in school. These are the processes that plant life uses to change carbon dioxide in the air into the oxygen we breathe. Without plant life, e.g. trees, life on this planet would have a hard time surviving. So on this Earth Day take up the cause of our planet so we can breathe more freely and look forward to a green future.