I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to realize this, but over the past twenty-five years or so, while busy planting vegetables and perennials, I’ve forgot to plant trees. And now it’s starting to show.
Last spring (May 19) I wrote a lament about how many trees had recently been lost in my neighborhood. A few of the losses were due to windstorms and some of the trees were legitimately ailing, but it seemed that the majority were the result of people sitting at home during COVID restrictions and — I believed it could be true — wondering what else to do around the house.
Some folks had just one tree taken down, but some removed two and even three perfectly healthy trees along with damaged ones. In some places, the landscape went from verdant to stark. A lot of privacy was suddenly missing and a lot of sound baffling was gone — I can now hear much more traffic noise from the end of my street where it joins a larger road.
To add to my dismay, week after week I watched news reports of the wildfires that were consuming vast tracts of forests in western states. How could we willfully be destroying nature here?
The worst, though, was when my back-door neighbor removed the approximately 150-year-old (I counted the rings afterward) oak tree that straddled our property line. Adding insult to injury, I ended up paying a portion of the cost; in writing the check, I felt like I’d signed the tree’s death-warrant. Yes, the tree was old. Yes, the tree was rotting away. But it was far away from either house and it still provided food and shelter to countless birds and insects. In fact, it undoubtedly supported more species at this stage than in its prime.
In watching it age, I confess that I felt a kinship with this tree as I, too, am aging. I felt that we were somehow partners on a progressive journey, each finding ways to continue to contribute to the world, despite a few battle scars. (The tree guy said that he saw evidence of one, and possibly two lightning strikes on the oak. This tree was a survivor!) And I wondered, what is being dismissive of the old but a failure to see beauty and worth, an inability to recognize that there is more than one way to be valuable?
It wasn’t until after the grief began to ebb that I suddenly saw things in a different light. I had been complacent, and even a bit blind. While I was bemoaning my neighbors’ actions, I failed to see the lack of my own. The fact is that trees don’t live forever. (Only a few, like sequoias, seem to do so.) And in a residential area, the only way to get new trees is to plant them, yet I hadn’t planted any new trees for about twenty-five years. Even an oak tree can grow a lot in a quarter of a century. I had missed my responsibility.
Not all trees live to be as old as that 150-year-old oak. The neighborhood where I live was “planted” nearly fifty years ago. Many of the trees that were mere children back then are now senior citizens; I’m noticing it with some of the trees in my own yard, as they have started to drop larger branches. Soon, I’ll be the one hiring a tree-removal service.
It’s time for me to get busy and take the actions that I can. Focus on what I can do, rather than fussing about what others are doing. This New Year’s, it’s literally time to turn over a new leaf.
Note: If you’d like to help plant trees here or elsewhere around the globe, google “tree planting organizations” to find projects you can donate to. Also, two great books for children: “Wangari’s Trees of Peace” and “The Tree Lady.” Both are true stories.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s book for children and families, Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets, is available on Amazon, along with her companion field journal, Explore Outdoors, at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.