Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trees and the human quality of life

This is a newspaper column I just dashed off.

I saw a sign like this – actually a placard – only one other time in two decades of exploring both natural lands and urban places in Pennsylvania.
And that previous time wasn’t in a spot of public land. It was on the grounds of the Phipps Conservatory in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh.
The recent find: I was hiking along an urban thoroughfare from Point A (a parking lot in front of a strip mall) to Point B (the Church Street Marketplace) in Burlington, Vt., when the 6X10-inch sign placed at eye level in the crook of a northern oak tree invited me to look closer.
(Learn about the Church Street Marketplace at
“Please . . . love this tree,” said the sign’s headline next to a black-on-white impression of a tree with spreading crown.
Then: “It gives you shade and clean air to breathe.”
Indeed it does. Indeed they do.
More: “Water and care for it like it’s your own. This tree was planted by the Burlington Parks and Recreation Department. What type of tree is it?”
The closer: “This tree was grown by volunteers of Branch Out Burlington! In the Bulrington Community Tree Nursery. For more information on urban tree care:
So Plant a tree, not a lawn (a.k.a. a turf farm). Here’s why:
-        Trees combat the greenhouse effect (To produce its food, a tree absorbs and locks away carbon dioxide in the wood, roots and leaves. Carbon dioxide is a global warming gas. A forest is a carbon storage area or a "sink" that can lock up as much carbon as it produces. This locking-up process "stores" carbon as wood and not as a global-warming "greenhouse" gas.
-        Trees clean the air;
-        Trees provide oxygen;
-        Trees cool the streets and the city;
-        Trees conserve energy and water;
-        Trees help prevent water pollution;
-        Trees slow runoff and hold soil in place;
-        Trees buffer noise pollution sources;
-        Trees act as wind breaks;
-        Trees make great places to hide in the childhood game of hide-and-seek, and the big ones are perfect locales for tree houses.
I remember many favorite trees, trees that I loved on first glance.
-        My first Alligator Juniper tree in south-central New Mexico;
-        The Shabark Hickory I once gawked at every time I stood near its trunk along Little Nescopeck Creek a mile from Conyngham;
-        The 1,000-year-old Douglas-fir wife Monica photographed me standing next to in the Grove of the Patriarchs, Mt. Rainer National Park, Washington State;
-        The Hackberry I planted in the backyard of our home in Conyngham;
-        And the big Yellow Birch I hugged uphill of the back side of Heart Lake, Adirondacks.
Take a moment; reflect back on your own encounters with the trees of Wild Nature. And ask your local municipality’s leaders why it doesn’t have a similar nature education program in place.

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