I come from an area encompassed by several major ecological niches. We have cave and escarpment, cliffs and fissured limestone bedrock, stretching from North to South for over 100 miles to our East, further east, small lakes, rolling hills and river systems, dune communities and Lake Michigan. Within a fun bike ride, we also have cliffs, inland lakes, rolling hills and one of the hardest working rivers in the world. We have microclimates based on remarkably deep peat bogs, thick rich soils, nearly pure sand, hard packed clay and soils so thin that in tens of thousands of years, the bedrock will still be visible. The land I call home is all of this and more. A short day's bicycle ride from here I can see all of these things and more and witness ecotones that have the power to transform each of these basic areas into life giving habitat. I am truly a bioregionalist, claiming the entire Great Lakes Region as my home. Although I do not get to the far flung parts of this ecological jewel, I have been around all five Great Lakes and know them with an intimacy that few can fathom.
I know in my bones the difficulty created when someone with specific, truncated interests dissects the land for administrative purposes. Defining an edge that cuts through my region and calling one side of the line Illinois or Ohio may have been expedient for them, but it wreaks havoc on the local populations, especially those of us who realize that we, and the land are one. With regard to the tree planting that we do, we make little distinction between public or private land. We want to plant site appropriate trees wherever they will be allowed to grow unmolested by humans. We have chosen to plant native trees and occasionally some from regions lying to our south. In an effort to broaden the appropriateness fo the trees we plant, we strive for communities of trees. A favorite quote from Watership Down is the old rabbit proverb, "One cloud is lonely". It is the same with trees. Like humans, without relationship or contact with other trees in the landscape, most trees do not do well.
When confronting a planting site, we look carefully at slope characteristics, soils, availability of water, shade, and limitations that may be caused by wind or sun. Whether there is abundance of water or lack of water, or the filtered sun of a forest floor or the relentless open space at the knoll of a denuded hillside, there are trees that we can select that have a better chance of survival and those that have no chance at all. Unlike a landscape architect who might allow the property owner to tell them what to plant, we listen to the earth itself. Finding the right tree for the site first and then planting.
We will travel as far as we need to to find the right spot to plant. Once we get the right tree to the right spot, we take the time to care for the tree or seedling, saying a prayer of sorts over the roots, laying them into the dirt in such a way that tries to make them happy. Happy roots lead to happy trees I always say. When we water them in and provide them with protection from hungry deer and critters, we are often rewarded with nearly instant transformation. Bird life has frequently perched upon our newly planted trees within minutes, watching our progress across the landscape.
Within hours, we can often transform an area from barren and relatively flat, to a three dimensional space that provides another layer of habitat within which life begins to thrive. Even an overgrown field might only support life for a few inches or feet below ground up to about two feet above the surface. In areas like this we can instantly create islands that are twice as high as the surrounding habitat, welcoming new layers of life that would never have landed there before. Even the shade below our trees offers more hospitable digs for creatures who make their living immersed in nature. A favorite activity of mine is to go back to areas planted with seedlings after a few years and sampling the shade that allows one to lay flat and enjoy the shade on an otherwise open area that would be intolerably hot if not for the tree, casting shade whether I am there to enjoy it or not. I have been engaged in this activity many times and had local wildlife arrive on scene to sit in that same spot, look at me like an oddity and move along in search of another place to rest in shade on a hot and sunny afternoon.
within years and decades, who knows the depth and breadth of transformation that these trees will create? This is of no concern to me, but I do know that my efforts will not be for nothing. Those who busted the sod of the high prairies or grubbed out the stumps of countless acres could not have understood the long term impacts of their activities. My own work planting trees is helping current generations of folks, wildlife, water quality and providing flood control in the most effective way possible. I do not focus on the future, but the now. It feels good to plant a tree and if I die tonight, there will be more of these sentinels, willing to give of themselves for others. That will be the greatest testament to my passing this way that I can imagine.
I am only limited by the money I have to spend on trees, the numbers of seeds that I am able to pick up and the helpful hands that share this experience with me. If you can afford a donation, please send it. If you have time to help, please let us know and we will plan a specific ECO-Tour for you. If you want to plant a few seeds yourself, please share this site with someone you care about and let them know of our efforts. Remember that when Pandora opened her famous box, in spite of the terrible things it contained, the last thing that was buried deep inside was hope.