Monday, July 14, 2008

Tree City USA


I noticed the sign when we trundled into town. Tree City USA. I had heard that title before. A fellow member of my city's green task force wanted our city to earn the distinction as well. Awarded by the charmingly old-fashioned Arbor Day Foundation, qualifying cities received some sort of benefits - free trees or a boost in image or something like that. I'd never thought much about trees. They're great and all but Tree City USA?

The next morning, with the temperature climbing quickly, my husband and I decided to bike down to the local park. We'd let the boys burn off energy before this summer's record heat forced everyone inside.

We climbed onto our bikes and wheeled out of the driveway. Instead of turning left toward the park, my husband gestured right - up the hill. We'd biked there last night - with the sun setting and my parents watching our sleeping children. It narrowed to a one lane country road, bordered by blackberry bushes and rustling with unseen lizards and deer.

It was beautiful. It was also uphill . . . and hot.

Because my boys had never nibbled berries from wild brambles and because my husband was already a block ahead, I decided to suck it up. I turned right and, towing my three year old in a bike trailer, pumped into the hills.

Halfway to the blackberries, I caught up with my husband and oldest son. A breeze sifted through the towering oaks and shook the clambering vines. "It's downright cool back here," my husband looked back at me. Gazing up, into a forest of lichen-coated oaks, I realized he was right. I had not broken a sweat and it had nothing to do with the sort of shape I'm in. The trees shaded the road, the bikes, us, and, best of all, the blackberry bushes.

That afternoon, the thermometer staggered toward the 105 mark. Sitting in the cool shade of my parents' persimmon tree as my oldest monkeyed up their ancient fig tree, I thought about trees.

Tree provide shade. They make a hot day more bearable, magically sucking up the sun's heat and offering a leaf-strewn canopy instead. Trees also supply habitat for birds, insects and small mammals. For humans, they offer beauty and dimension to a landscape and, if of the right variety, more fruit than one family can possibly consume. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, store carbon in their trunks and soil and release oxygen into the atmosphere. "Trees fight soil erosion, conserve rainwater, and reduce water runoff and sediment deposit after storms." Viewed in that light, trees are the true environmental superheroes.

Long lauded as an antidote to climate change, recent studies have shown that planting trees in the Northern Hemisphere will not slow down global warming. However, with an ice free Arctic possible this summer, we must think about adapting to climate change - not just abating it. On a hotter planet, where wildlife struggles to find a home, where rainfall dwindles and food becomes scare, we'd all be better off with another tree or two. We'd all be better off in a Tree City USA.


* photograph courtesy of Arbor Day Foundation.

16 comments:

arduous said...

Is there anything much better than spending a warm summer day with a book and some fruit under the shade of a tree? I think not.

knutty knitter said...

I love trees. When we bought this house I was sad that we only had one elderly apple tree so I planted some. My only gripe is how long we will have to wait for them to grow. It seems unfair that just across the fence is the remains of an orchard in the most weed encrusted and overgrown backyard. They do let us pick the fruit however so I have to be grateful for that but I can't help imagining what it must have been like once. Maybe someday it will be like that again...you never know :)

viv in nz

Chile said...

In the book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, the author discusses house orientation and how to plant trees for maximum summer shading. Since he pushes use of solar ovens and gardening, that is factored in, too. Our rental house is backwards with excessive shading on the north and east sides, and exposure on the south and west. Because of driveway and gas/water line locations, I can't plant trees on the two sides that need it most. D'oh!

Joyce said...

Yay, I live in a Tree City! The pioneers picked this spot because it was (a little) higher and dryer, and because there was a grove of trees. We''ve been adding to the trees ever since. It's wonderful to have streets that are completely over-arch with trees.
I should also add that they are a good sound barrier. Street sound goes up, so having tall trees in your yard can deaden that.

Bobbi said...

My home is on a one acre lot and for the past 15 years, I've been planting all sorts of trees. Because we live near a busy highway, the trees - as well as shrubs and other plants - help muffle the noise from the road.

Heather @ SGF said...

I love watching trees. We live in an area where most of them were taken out to put up houses, but our neighbors have a few nice once. I love sitting on the porch and watching them sway in the wind. They're so beautiful!

Wendy said...

My favorite all-time book is Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. It makes me cry.

That's how I feel about trees. They give so much ... and we, humans, seem to care so little about their sacrifice.

... and now that I sound like a total nutcase ... :).

Bugs and Brooms said...

I love trees! There is nothing more peaceful than stepping into the woods with only the sound of the rustling leaves of the trees 'singing' in the breeze. I really enjoy swinging in our hammock and looking up into the forest canopy. It is so relaxing. Not to mention to other benefits of trees...

spelled with a K said...

Syracuse also "earned that distinction" and as much as I dump on this place, we really do have a lot of trees here. Sad that they aren't the antidote, but they still should be a priority in the climate battle.

Green Bean said...

Arduous: Absolutely not! Tree shade beats ac any day of the week.

Knutty Knitter: I know exactly how you feel. I gaze longingly at abandoned orchards, at ancient apple trees that spill their fruit, unheeded, over backyard fences. Before we started planting, my yard has one older orange tree and a young lemon and a few random tall flowering trees that the birds love. We added two apples, a pomegranate (a tiny baby) and a Japanese maple. Still, they are all so small. By the time they are big enough to climb, my boys won't care about climbing trees.

Chile: Thanks. I'll read that book because we're looking to put another tree in the front yard - which is south west and HOT and SUNNY. I'm hoping it will give us some summer shade. :)

Joyce: I'm jealous! You are right. I forgot about trees absorbing sound. In my parents town, there is a patch of trees that overhang the road. The boys call it the Tree Tunnel. Nothing is more magical.

Bobbi: How nice it will be as all those trees go. I forgot about trees muffling noise. Is there anything they don't do?

Heather: I'm with you. Watching them sway in the breeze, seeing squirrels leap from limb to limb or birds dance around the edges. It is SO relaxing.

Wendy: Okay, I'm a nut case too!! I get so upset when people cut down trees, especially big mature trees. It takes so long for them to grow, they provide so much. Do we really have to chop them down for a "view" or some such thing?

Bugs: So true. Don't you just feel your blood pressure drop when you are out in the forest, surrounded by trees.

Spelled with a K: Yes, they should be a priority. We should all be planting them, our cities should plant them. When you start them small they are dirt cheap or sometimes free and don't actually need that much coddling. More trees!

Jennifer said...

It's one of the reasons my house is so cool... 17 trees around it. Sadly one fell this spring (16 now), and it's a little hotter. I'm planning on planting a new one in the same area to help cool us down again! I'm thinking a peach this time (last one was a crapapple).

Melissa said...

see, that is why I don't mind it when my brothers try to tease me by calling me a tree hugger (brothers never seem to grow out of teasing their sisters, somehow)

eco 'burban mom said...

We lacked any trees in our yard until last year when we wrangled a huge Maple with a 300-lb. root ball into our yard, down a hill and into a 5 foot wide hole dug by yours truly. That's what tree love will do to a girl! :o) That tree provides us enough shade one year later to shade our back patio so we can enjoy meals outdoors. And the birds seem to love it too!

Green Bean said...

Jennifer: How lucky you are to have so many trees for your tiny little house! :)

Melissa: That's pretty cute. Besides, I love the term "treehugger". It could be a LOT worse.

Eco Burbs: Now that's some tree love! We have tiny yearlings every where else but are going to plant a fig or pear tree in our front lawn this fall. I'm thinking we'll need to find a more mature tree like yours.

eco 'burban mom said...

GB - Here's a tree idea for you - my hubby asked some landscaper friends where they find nice, healthy trees of a mature age. They directed us to a gorgeous nursery that sells directly to landscapers and companies - but they were more than happy to take our money too! We had looked at regular nurseries but found trees were $400. We got a better, healthier tree for literally half the price. The selection was also HUGE, they had rows and rows of all types of trees, at different ages including fruit, pine, hardwoods, shade - you name it. We literally got the largest one that would fit on our trailer and hauled it home. Our neighbor planted a tree half the size of ours and was giddy telling everyone what a great deal they got for $315. I was quietly smiling to myself at our $200 find. With a little research, it's amazing what you can learn! And?? That nursery was family owned and operated. I am so glad they got my money instead of a big company!

Green Bean said...

Thanks Eco Burbs. That reminds me that the guy who fixed my micro sprinklers told me the same thing. I'll have to get ahold of him and see if he can get me a nice big pear or fig tree this fall. Thanks for the tip.

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