By Mike Groenewold
Tis the season for all good tree planters to polish the rust off their spades and dibble bars and plant trees. Arbor Day is a ritual and tradition started by J. Sterling Morton in 1883. When Morton moved to Nebraska from Michigan he found a nearly treeless prairie and worked tirelessly to promote fruit-bearing trees for farms and shade trees for homes. Morton believed the Nebraska landscape and economy would benefit from planting many trees. He convinced his neighbors to follow his example of planting orchards, shade trees and wind breaks on their property. Eventually, as a member of Nebraska’s State Board of Agriculture, he proposed that a special day be established to plant trees and promote their importance. More than one million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day in Nebraska. All 50 states now celebrate Arbor Day sometime during the year and many countries throughout the world have a similar conservation holiday developed from Morton’s idea.
Most adults recognize the benefits trees provide: shelterbelts to protect farm and home from wind, trees planted alone or in groups to provide shade, trees to cleanse pollution from the air and provide wildlife habitat. And, most agree trees are simply beautiful.
Will our children carry on the Arbor Day tradition? They will if we teach them. There is probably no better way to instill a conservation ethic in our kids than to plant a tree with them. A child who helps plant and water a tree will get their hands dirty, and while watching it grow will observe one of the most powerful impressions nature can make. Or, help them build a tree house. Many lessons can be taught about choosing, measuring, cutting and nailing wood. A tree house becomes a child’s personal sanctuary; a place to read, relax and escape the fast paced world we live in. Recently, scholars have suggested our children need creative thought to sort out life’s challenges. Resting in a tree house swaying in the wind and sharing a home with birds and squirrels may be just the place to get those creative juices flowing. You might even enjoy some time there yourself. Lying on your back, staring at the clouds for a while might help you forget about four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline.
Morton provided us a great lesson when he said, “Most holidays repose on the past while Arbor Day proposes for the future.” Since the future rests with our children, we need to help them learn to plant and appreciate trees.