Arbor Day is a world-wide holiday originating in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska. As its name suggests, Arbor Day commemorates trees. On the first Arbor Day (April 10, 1872), it is estimated that 1 million trees were planted! The beautiful living beings that line our streets, shade our lawns, color our cities, and provide us with so many products essential to our lives. This holiday is celebrated world-wide, but at different times throughout the spring (usually March or April) depending on the climate and growing season of the trees in each bioregion. But as the last Friday in April is typically celebrated as the universal Arbor Day, I thought I would take some time out of my day to ponder the importance of trees in our lives and then share it with you all. After I write this, I will go out and hug the tree down the block.
Trees provide shade. What is more relieving on a blistering hot summer day than the soothing, honest relief of a shade tree? Yes, the shade may move depending on the tree’s angle with the sun but does it really take thatmuch energy to move with it? Plus, what is more beautiful than the dappled shadows of leaves gently waving on you lap? What’s more, the ideal shady spot is perfect for an afternoon of getting lost in an exciting novel, eating a packed picnic lunch, talking with your best friend about tonight’s party, contemplating the day stoically alone, philosophizing, or just watching people pass you by.
Trees are green! I am sure that I am not alone in my aesthetic appreciation of the color green. It is my favorite color and comes in so many different beautiful shades. The perky bright green of new leaves, the stoic and thoughtful forest green of a Douglas Fir forest, the grey-green of red flowering gum, the dusty brownish green of eucalyptus. As a matter of fact, my favorite word of all time describes something that is “becoming green.” Virescent. Look it up! From a single tree isolated on a block to an urban forest to some of the greatest expanses of national forest, the green-ness of trees makes every place more beautiful. I like to stand on top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco to see swaths of green clustered throughout the city. The green clots of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio to the line of Folsom Street greening. There are some examples here.
They’re easy to write about. Something’s so attractive about a “thing” that makes beautiful sounds (leaves rustling in the wind or making music with the rain), smell good (think eucalyptus, cherry, or magnolia), and are aesthetically diverse and pleasing to the eye. All trees look beautiful in the sun. Each tree has its own personality and it’s up to the writer to find out what that is.
Each tree is its own ecosystem. Think about how many living beings make their home in a tree. Birds, insects, and squirrels wouldn’t have a home without their tree hosts. Insects eat the leaves, birds eat the insects, squirrels eat the birds…wait, that’s not right. Larger animals eat the birds, the cycle goes on and on. Without trees as such gracious hosts, we wouldn’t hear that beautiful bird song we associate with morning. Or spring!
They’re amazing farmers and chefs all at once. One of the reasons why trees are such gracious hosts is that they can make their own food! I’ve always been drawn to botany for this very reason. Photosynthesis is fascinating!! Photosynthesis, ahhh!!
They are old and wise. Some trees live longer than humans. There is something beautiful about sitting under a tree that has been there for 50 years. Imagine all the history that trees have seen in their long lives…it’s inspiring! I went on a tree tour last weekend with SF’s Friends of the Urban Forest and was lucky enough to learn from tree enthusiasts Mike Sullivan and Matt Ritter, two of the most knowledgeable and renowned tree lovers in California! They led us through Cole Valley in San Francisco, teaching us about the trees we came across. Each had a story. The Ginko tree, native to China but able to grow all over the world, the oldest tree evolutionarily. It existed before fruit and flowers evolved and was originally pollinated by an animal/insect that is now extinct! It’s amazing to me how much history these living beings have seen throughout time.
Essential to our lives. In this day and age, the worry about “wasting trees” is a common axiom. Yes, it is true that we can plant more trees- they are fairly easy to propagate. But the other side of the coin is that they are slow-growers. If you cut down one tree for a table leg or a ream of paper, it will take another seedling many years, decades, centuries even, to reach the point that it was at when you cut it down. So as essential as they are to our modern lives- furniture, houses, paper, musical instruments, telephone poles, they are precious beings. For instance, before settlers came West, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest used the Western Red Cedar for everything-they called it the Tree of Life. They used the trunks for making canoes and weapons, the boughs for bedding, the soft bark for clothing (and diapers!), and even the inner bark for medicine. So don’t take your trees for granted!
These are just a few of countless reasons why trees are great. They are diverse and beautiful, just like human beings. And just like humans, they are very huggable. So even if you are not accustomed to it, go out today and hug a tree. Tree hugging is not just for tree huggers!