This week is a big one for the big blue marble we call Earth: We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and Arbor Day on April 25. I usually consider myself to be pretty “tuned in” to environmental issues, but I was taken by surprise last week when these two holidays popped up on the calendar. I was sad to realize that neither of these two days has been high on my list of “holidays to celebrate.” Our culture makes a much bigger deal about Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and New Year’s. Heck, even President’s Day gets more attention than Earth Day and Arbor Day.
I submit to you that we have some very misplaced priorities, especially when you consider that none of those other holidays would even be possible without a healthy planet that provides what our species needs to live here.
So in an effort to set my own priorities straight, I’m appointing myself an unofficial ambassador of both holidays. With that in mind, I took a quick tour around the interwebs to get educated on the origins and purpose of both of these days. Wanna know what I found? I knew you would.
Did you know that the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970? It was a way to harness the energy behind the protests of the 1960s and turn it toward protecting the natural world. Inspired in large part by the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the environmental movement was off and running. But it seems to be celebrated much more enthusiastically in other countries than in our own, and that needs to change.
And Arbor Day has an even longer history. Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, a journalist from Detroit who moved his family to Nebraska in the mid-19th century. The first Arbor Day was celebrated there in 1872, with the planting of over a million trees in a single day. And get this: When it was made a legal holiday in 1885, Nebraska City celebrated with a parade of a thousand people. So tell me, when’s the last time you saw a parade to celebrate the importance of Arbor Day? I never have. (Click the link in this paragraph to see the official story of the history of Arbor Day.)
For the eight years we’ve lived on our two-acre wooded property, I’ve been a fierce protector of every single tree here. We leave the dead ones to provide food and shelter for the birds and other animals who live here with us. And when a large ash tree beside the house died last year and threatened to fall on our roof, rather than have the entire tree removed, I instructed the tree guys to leave the bottom 15 feet of it standing. I look out my office window now and often see woodpeckers and nuthatches foraging on that tree trunk. Some people may scoff at my efforts to do what they consider small and meaningless acts like that, but I know that it makes a difference. That tree will continue to support life for other species long after its own life has ended.
My love of trees has continued to deepen with my love of birds. And not just for the obvious reason that I spend a lot of time walking under trees. Birders tend to learn about trees while watching little birds with binoculars. We see details of trees that most people never notice. I first heard the word “catkin” while watching warblers in the spring. (Catkins are the dangly flowers in some trees, like alder, oak, and beech.) We learn that certain species of birds prefer certain trees for food or nesting, and we learn where the various types of trees are likely to be found, so we can find the birds we’re seeking.
I’m frustrated at how environmentalism and efforts to “Save the Planet” have become politicized in our country. Taking care of our habitat shouldn’t be something that is debated the way it is, with people being called names for wanting to protect natural places. I’ve got news for those people who sneer “tree hugger” like it’s a dirty word — those people who are planting trees and saving wetlands and so on are doing it for ALL of us. For me, for you, for your children and your grandchildren.
The earth can survive without trees and clean water. But the human species can’t.
And the National Wildlife Federation has a program that allows you to sponsor a tree in the name of a loved one for as little as $10, and you get a certificate to commemorate your memorial tree (or trees).
I plan to continue protecting the trees we have, and if I can find another spot to plant new ones, I’ll do that too. I hope others will be re-inspired to plant more trees as well. Even if you don’t have space for more trees in your yard, you can donate to the Arbor Day Foundation or Earth Day Network and support their efforts to plant trees around the world.
Ok, I’m going outside to hug a tree now…. 🙂