As we wind down the days of Citizen-Scientist Month, and the many commemorations and reminders and resolutions pertinent to Earth Day, April 22, 2021, I have had occasion to reflect on the critical seriousness of the health of our planet.
In late February, we experienced a snowstorm which whipped extremely heavy, rain-laden snow into a plethora of snow-tornadoes uprooting trees, sloughing off heavy branches, pulling down utility wires, tossing bushes like beach balls against wavering fences. A few days later, I was brought to tears when I examined the carnage. A favorite fir tree here, a young maple there, in all, eight seemingly healthy trees now lying scattered in our yard like dead soldiers on a battlefield their comrades, bent and wounded, barely standing nearby. And yet, I knew it was Nature’s way of cleansing the environment though ironically tied to the changing climate.
A few weeks later, an article in our Cleveland paper stirred passionate armchair and professional environmentalists into a frenzy of reactions. A beloved oak tree in Bay Village, Ohio was felled by chainsaws, not extreme weather, to make room for the construction of what the paper called, “…a lakefront mansion” for the new owners of the property. The Grand Abby Oak Tree, as it was affectionately known, was 350 years old! Arborists have estimated it to be potentially the oldest living thing in Cuyahoga County. Not only did the tree have sentimental value among its neighbors, but it stabilized some of Lake Erie’s shoreline and blocked the Lakes severe winds for the area.
Reading the story, I wept again over a tree. The only way we can protect such a gift of nature is to secure a conservation easement on it, wrote the historian Will Krause in the Westlake Bay Village Observer. He added, that in Northeast Ohio, “There has been a terrible loss of trees and tree canopy.” And I thought, Cleveland is nicknamed, The Forest City, because its earliest settlers saw the breadth and depth of its natural tree canopy so different from the emerging concrete pantheons taking shape in bigger cities.
According to another Plain Dealer article of February 28, Ohio has lost 3 million trees, equivalent to 300,000 acres. Holden Arboretum is a 3,500 acre arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio which has begun a campaign to solicit volunteers to help purchase and plant trees in Northeast Ohio, especially since private property accounts for 85 percent of the land. The campaign is a start toward a movement that will eventually lead people to a greater awareness of their responsibility to care for trees and nurture them for their beauty and the environment. Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s largest county and the home of the city of Cleveland, lost a crippling 6,600 acres of trees between 2011 and 2017. If you live in this area of Ohio, why not check out the website, holden.org to find out how to buy a tree? If you live elsewhere, enlist the help of google to locate arboretums or to secure the guidance of arborists or plant scientists to help you do something for trees.
Arbor Day arrives on April 30. It is a national day of tree planting among ordinary citizens which began in 1874 in the State of Nebraska. Settlers in that state missed the trees of their homelands and feared the scouring and scorching of crops without tree protection. One million trees were planted on that first Arbor Day which is now commemorated on the last Friday in April, planting time for most of the United States.
After God and human beings, the Bible mentions trees the most among living things. And then there are bushes, vineyards, seeds, roots, and fruit, all related to trees. Elijah sleeps under a broom tree, Zaccheus climbs a sycamore, Jesus teaches about the mustard seed. On and on. It seems that God’s favorite plant is the tree!
Scientists tell us that trees might even live as sentient beings with documentation that healthy trees often reach out underground to connect with unhealthy trees sharing the same forest floor. This way they share their nutrients with the suffering tree. I suggest you read a powerful novel titled, The Overstory by Richard Powers which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 and then search for many books and articles on the importance of trees.
What can I do to contribute kindness to nature? Can I plant a tree in my yard? Can I take some time to reflect on passages in the Scripture where trees and nature are part of the teaching?
As St. Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “God’s eternal power and divinity have become visible, recognized through the things he has made.”