The thing about Arbor Day

is that while for most folks it’s about planting a few symbolic trees, its reach is immense.

I attended a celebratory event in White Plains on April 29, at Highlands Middle School, produced by the White Plains Beautification Foundation, a group that believes “the beautification of our City lifts the spirits of all who live here, work here, or who are just passing through.” What grinch could argue with that?

Babies bounced.

Gentlemen gave the proceedings their undivided attention.

The ceremony included remarks by White Plains’ mayor and the commissioner of public works, and also a speaker subbing for the school’s principal in his absence (he had something more pressing to do?). The jazz band stepped up, after the requisite teenage hair styling.

Everyone in a fine mood on this chilly April afternoon. Even the stalwart edifice of the school building received its share of compliments from the podium.

The grounds seemed to have been prepped for the occasion, with bright and shining pink-blooming trees all around. Is it my imagination, or is this the finest spring on record for springtime tree flash?

Two trees were already in the ground, so no one had to get their shoes muddy: an eastern red cedar and a black gum, one dedicated to a beloved teacher nicknamed Mr. Bill and the other to a generous-minded graduate of the school district who owns a successful auto body shop in the city.

My colleague George Profous, a genius forester with the New York State Department of Conservation, attended. We cochair a committee for a group called ReLeaf, whose purpose is to educate and advocate for trees.

There are too many Arbor Day functions around the lower Hudson Valley for George to visit all of those whose municipalities he has assisted, but his presence here was gratefully acknowledged.

Finally, a literary contribution, from student and no-doubt future Certified Arborist Olivia Tuzel.

She had clearly put a lot of time and thought into the subject.

Trees, what more could they be?

Oxygen providers, contributors to cozy fires

And perhaps nothing more than suppliers

Within the grained surface, lies more than what we see

But our greed envelops our cravings, blinding us from an everlasting fee…

And so on, for six meaningful stanzas.

I liked the last one.

All we need is devotion and effort to bring change

Along with a little bit of hope

So that future generations can tell their children,

“No need to fret, that part of our past lies only as an educational anecdote.”

In 1882, the first American Forestry Congress convened in Cincinnati’s Eden Park, in conjunction with the first National Arbor Day tree planting, attended by 25,000 people. Saplings named for prior U.S. presidents got planted, their roots moistened by children wielding watering cans.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” runs the Chinese proverb. “The second best time is now.” 

How else to address the macro issue of climate change? Start on a micro scale. Plant a tree. Even a tiny seedling contributes to reforestation. It seems every organization is putting a million, a billion, a trillion trees in the ground, an impulse that serves as a poetic if not totally logical reaction to the recession of actual forest lands. I know New York is beefing up its already ambitious arboricultural effort. The ever-worthy Arbor Day Foundation has fostered the planting of nearly 500 million trees in more than 50 countries around the world.

Even the Girl Scouts (or of course the Girl Scouts?) have climbed on the bandwagon, pledging that they will plant five million trees in five years. Middle-schoolers track the trees they plant on line to earn a Girl Scout Tree Promise patch.

Arbor Day can be every day – at least in the cool weather of spring or fall. So go ahead, get your shoes muddy.

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