Thursday, May 9, 2019

Trees hug everyone all the time, so, yeah, go hug one

Yes, I am aware that recently I've been writing a lot about trees, including:

* Rare oaks saved, so far, from sand mining in Jackson and Monroe Counties.

* Acres of pristine trees threatened for golf course development adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park.

* A grove of iconic horse chestnut trees in downtown Milwaukee apparently headed for destruction.

* Ancient oaks facing the chainsaw in Kletzsch Park in Glendale.

* Other old oaks which could be destroyed on the Milwaukee County Grounds.

* And on the Foxconn construction site, but don't get started on that or we'll be there all day.

Trees produce the oxygen that keep you and me alive. They absorb flood water, cool the air, enhance property values, fertilize the soil, sequester carbon and shelter wildlife. 

What's not to like?

The Internet is thick with websites that feature those highlights and back them up with data. Here's one that lists dozens of benefits which trees provide. 

My tree-hugging began in the thick, unspoiled woods behind my family's house in Maryland during my boyhood. The house, built in 1950-'51, was the only one my parents ever owned. It was small - - no basement, no attic, tiny rooms, no garage, narrow driveway - - dropped on an irregular lot among tall trees, which, having been the first occupants were always put first. 

The woods was heaven. It had trails, a slow-moving creek with pools deep enough to nurture minnows - - nothing bigger - - pieces of two abandoned stone streetcar bridges, and a waterfalls which fell about six feet and which I could see from my bedroom window when a summer thunderstorm made the creek go crazy. 

We neighborhood kids had so many adventures back there. Built dams, took down dams and put broad stones in the creek so we could cross with dry feet at a narrows and more quickly get to friends' homes in the next neighborhood  over the woods' only real hill.

Buried a time capsule in the woods off a path. Where? Who knows.

Found a cache of bright shiny BB's. Someone had a forbidden BB gun? Who? 

Again, who knows. A woods' secret, like the name never shared with me of the minister's son who admitted to having knocked out a piece of our living room window which I discovered one morning the size of an ice cube with his rifle - - perhaps a .22 caliber,  or perhaps with a BB from his supply we'd found.

Like I said, I never got the details, other than what I overheard.

And there were trees. All sizes, shapes, varieties. Trees you could climb, run among, use for hide-and-seek. 

One had a rope tied presumably by some nice parent to a strong branch, and with the just the right blend of physics and luck you could swing all the way to the other bank and drop off without landing in what was one of the creek's deeper pools.

And trees so tall they blocked the sky.  That dropped millions of leaves in the fall, covering the paths with red and yellow and brown.

Woods which my father Hobart as a town council member helped save from complete destruction after developers unveiled plans to level them for high-rise apartment towers that later went condo. Progress.

My dad was an award-winning business and finance journalist and editor at Newsweek, and later, The Washington Post. 

He covered the White House and Wall Street and interviewed elected officials and business leaders all over the world. He wrote a regular syndicated column and was a fixture for years on the Sunday morning TV shows, but helping save some of the woods and its living things was his greatest achievement.

When he retired from the council, the town gave him a framed color photograph of some the woods he'd helped preserve. 

That remnant is about 15 acres, if memory serves me this late at night. The acreage was incorporated into the county park system, but with far fewer trees and straightened, less natural paths, the last time I checked. 


When Dad died at home in 1995, we donated the photo back to the town and it hangs in the Town Hall, I'm told.

My mother died in the house in November, 2008. A few mornings earlier I had opened her bedroom curtains and saw a deer standing maybe 15 feet on the other side of the fence where it would get real marshy when it rained. A wetland, I suppose.

I'd never seen deer in the woods, ever. It looked straight at the house, motionless, and before I could call out to my siblings to come take a look the deer ran gracefully back into the trees towards the creek, and disappeared. 

Despite all the cutting and concrete back there, the trees were still doing their job and the woods was alive.

I told my mother that there had just been a deer in the woods. "Nice," she said.

So, yeah, hug those trees. Any trees.

My tree-hugging writing actually goes back a few years on this blog, like in this 2015 posting, though I admit I feel a sense of urgency now about these matters the older I get and the less tolerant I've become of the greedy stupidity laid down on our children and grandchildren and the land by the Trumps and Walkers of the political world:
There is a provocative and information-laden piece in The New York Times that links Amazon rain forest clear-cutting to drought on two continents to climate change worldwide.
Read it for the clearly-explained science, and the message, which is, seriously, go hug a tree. They are saving your lives, and the planet:
Trees take up moisture from the soil and transpire it, lifting it into the atmosphere. A fully grown tree releases 1,000 liters [about 260 gallons] of water vapor a day into the atmosphere: The entire Amazon rain forest sends up 20 billion tons a day...
The chainsaw caucus in the Wisconsin legislature, local governments and some apologists for corporate ideologues have forgotten or care not that old growth trees and wetlands - - the organic heart of the land which produces clean air and fresh water - - are the best defenses we are blessed to have against climate extremes which these days regularly wreak havoc.

The current predictions about all that are frightening; tree-hugging better become mandatory or else your children's children are going to see the rain forests and glaciers and maybe your neighborhood parks through online archives.

Jim Stingl had a great piece the other day in the Journal Sentinel about his "favorite freeway tree" on I-94 east of Madison. His column was a real service. I'm sure it sparked a lot of reader reflection and feedback.

Remember Scout's favorite oak tree in "To Kill a Mockingbird?" A lot of people have favorite trees. 

I've got a couple these days. One is a tall white pine in our yard that I am sure was there when construction on the house began 98 years ago.

And there's a magnificent, lone birch tree at the top of of the hill on Lincoln Memorial Drive that I check in on several times a week. 

Even though I'm a regular visitor, I'm entertained that the birch always seems surprised to see me. "Oh, you again?"

So, sure, call me a tree hugger. Glad to do it. Trees help keep me happy and alive. 

If you have a favorite tree, let me know about it, and if you can find me on Facebook, post a picture there, too.

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