We have recently found a supporter who cannot afford to make donations, but who has time to stop out at the City Compost Facility on a somewhat regular basis. He has found us many, many tree seeds, which are far easier to deal with in piles than they are when they are spread across the ground under a giant old tree. He has become a great source for seeds and seedlings that find their way into the Earth without draining our bank account. The reason that I explain this in some level of detail is because I see the need for doing this sort of work nearly everywhere. Trees can transform the landscape and with a bit of effort, many places that humans have deforested the land can be recovered.
When the Russians first invaded Afghanistan, their first attempt at making the population beholden to them was to cut down every tree in every courtyard of every compound, leaving the locals without any sort of reliable, albeit tiny, source of food in their immediate vicinity. Additionally, their shady retreats were turned into nothing more than parking lots. My idea for U.S. intervention there was to give each of our soldiers one thousand fruit and nut tree seedlings that they would have been responsible for, and when they could find places to plant them and people who would care for them, their "tour" would be over. In a scenario like this, there would have been no shots fired, no assaults on our people and no unnecessary casualties. People can tell the difference between those who want to exert power and control over them and those who want to lift them out of a difficult situation.
I recently heard that in cities across the U.S., there is a push to create Million Tree Pledges, creating plans for reforesting our cities. Here at ECO-Tours, we have expanded our area of operations steadily outward, first working in the watershed that we live within, then planting in areas that flow away from our city, ultimately expanding to plant in the watershed of two of the Great Lakes, Michigan and Superior. It is becoming harder and harder to find areas that have not been ransacked by the power and control freaks, stripped of vegetation and paved over, many of these areas may never recover, unless we humans stop abusing the landscape. I applaud the Million Tree idea, however, if cities continue to plant non-native populations, or limit themselves to just one or even three species of trees in their planting mix, we will soon find that the efforts are for naught. We have been down those roads before.
When I was a child, there were many millions of elm trees, planted along nearly every residential street in America, (at least every place that they would grow) before I was ten, a pathogen came through and nearly eliminated the population. It spread like wildfire and within a few short years, the street trees were gone. Neighborhoods that had looked like giant living cathedrals of green were turned into harsh, hot, dry landscapes that made playing out in the quiet streets a thing of the past. The cities across America that had lost those giant elm trees seem to have learned nothing because they all seem to have rushed to plant ash trees in their place. The ashes are being wiped out, a bit more slowly, but because of the same type of monoculture planting.
In recent years, city foresters are seemingly beginning to understand the need for a mix of species, but only time will tell whether their efforts will be enough to change the balance of species enough to build a resilient forest where our cities have most ravaged the natural environment. I regularly see trees that have truncated lives because the wrong species got planted "too close to a house", or "too close to a street". They are taken down because they are "Too messy" or because "the birds that sit in the branches shit on my car". I have seen trees that only wanted the moisture that would normally be there for them, but that died because the drains in the street had turned that patch of ground into a desert, or trees that had found a way to survive in spite of human interventions killed when the street was widened. I have even seen trees killed because humans deemed one afternoon of entertainment to be of more value than the trees, that had been there for decades, quietly making the air just a little bit cleaner, making that area just a bit more habitable, and invisibly taking what they needed from the planet without harm to a single living being.
When I first began planting trees, I thought that the process would one day become boring or that at least I would tire of doing the work. This has not been the case. When I gently spread the filamentous root system of a tiny shoot into the ground, I get as much satisfaction today, at age fifty-something as I did when I was twenty, or ten. when i breathe my carbon-filled breath into the hole or say a prayer of blessing into the tiny sprig's leaves, my spirit mingles with that of a living be-ing. It releases all of the goodwill and hope that one can muster into the tissues of another entity. I have seen birds show up, where none had been before, within minutes of planting a small tree. They fly in alight on one of the branches and I have seen them immediately transform the newly planted tree into an ecosystem in and of itself. See, frequently birds, as part of their pre-flight check, defecate. This nutrient rich shit not only helps fertilize the tree, but also builds the soil with much needed organisms and organic matter. Having a hand in this transformative process is always powerful, always amazing and always increases the feelings of intimacy that one feels for the world around them.
I understand that some people don't like to get their hands dirty. I do. I understand that for the uninitiated, it sounds like "too much work", but in my experience, there is nothing better than fresh air to breathe, wild berries to eat when one is on a walk, and clean water to drink. The trees we plant today will one day provide for us in ways that we may not be able to fathom. My goal is not to help myself to the benefits of all of the trees that I plant, but to offer them as hopeful messengers that speak to the spirits of all those who will enjoy their shade over the years. If it is only for the birds, it will all be worth it.