April 23, 2006
Reconnect with nature by planting trees on Arbor Day
Nebraska pioneer started holiday in 1800s
By Lou Sebesta
For the Poughkeepsie Journal
Trees have been revered since the earliest times for their practical,
aesthetic and spiritual qualities. But to witness our relationship
with the earth and nature, one might wonder whether we've sacrificed
the wisdom of that older vision of the forest.
Arbor Day offers the chance to reconsider our relationship with
Native Americans were more at one with nature than we are today.
Cultural anthropologist and philosopher Joseph Campbell showed
how ancient religions revered nature in all its manifestations
and cycles, personifying it as Gaea, the Earth Mother goddess.
For the Druids, the Celtic religious order of priests and poets
of ancient Britain, Ireland and Gaul, trees themselves were sacred.
Oaks played a central part in their ceremonies to the cycles of
death and regeneration.
In many cultures around the world, the tree has long been a symbol
of life itself. Some more enlightened visionaries have helped
revitalize a more benevolent view of nature.
In America, the idea for a celebration of Arbor Day was the inspiration
of Julius Sterling Morton, a pioneer who moved into the Nebraska
Territory in 1854 from Detroit. As lovers of nature, he and his
wife Caroline wanted to recreate a more treed landscape than they
found in the vast prairies of their adopted state. So they planted
trees, shrubs and flowers in their new home. Besides the shade
and beauty they provided, Morton and his fellow pioneers desired
trees for their value as windbreaks, fuel and building materials.
Morton was a journalist, and he soon became editor of Nebraska's
first newspaper. This powerful forum enabled Morton to spread
essential agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees
to a receptive audience. But he also wrote about the deeper importance
of environmental stewardship and the interrelatedness of all life.
As a symbol of this recognition of the importance of trees in
our lives, he encouraged everyone to dedicate a special day to
plant trees in celebration of this cause.
In 1872, the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture accepted Morton's
resolution "to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest
and nut." They declared April 10 Arbor Day and offered prizes
to counties and individuals for the most well-planted trees on
On the first Arbor Day in Nebraska, people were inspired to plant
more than one million trees. After that rousing tree-planting
holiday observance, J. Sterling Morton became known nationally
as the founder of Arbor Day.
Shortly thereafter, other states followed suit, and today all
50 states celebrate Arbor Day on or around the last Friday in
April. In different forms and under different names, similar festivals
throughout the world are dedicated to planting trees.
A show of concern
The National Arbor Day Foundation says Arbor Day celebrations
and the planting of trees show hope for the future and a concern
for future generations. They symbolize a faith the trees will
grow to provide us with essential wood products, wildlife habitat,
erosion control and quality-of-life amenities such as cleaner
air and water, shelter from the wind and sun, beauty and inspiration
for ourselves and our children.
National Arbor Day's Tree City USA program recognizes communities
that effectively manage their public trees, encouraging adoption
of community standards for public benefit. Requirements include
having a tree board or department, a community tree ordinance,
a tree management budget of at least $2 per capita and holding
an Arbor Day observance. In New York, the City of Poughkeepsie
is the longest continuously recognized Tree City USA community.
Lou Sebesta is a community forester for the Department of Environmental
Conservation and co-coordinator of the regional ReLeaf Committee.