April 29, 2010

Arbor Day

Arbor Day is April 29 in Connecticut.  Since it's a day to plant trees, it varies by state according to spring's arrival in each climate, unlike Earth Day which was a global observance on April 22.
An oak and two maples ready to be planted on the back hill this week

It was originally the concept of a midwestern journalist concerned about planting windbreaks on the plains in the 1870s.  New England doesn't need windbreaks; we're in a woodland forest system and thick stands of trees are our natural environment.  When I weed, I pull maple and oak seedlings out of my garden beds, and we have to mow frequently in the spring to keep the baby trees from overtaking the lawn.  If we didn't mow or weed for a few seasons, our lot would be a forest again.

In fact that is what happened all across New England in the last century.  Early farmers and settlers cleared the rocky hillsides in the 1700s and 1800s to create farms, build houses and fences, and burn fuel.  Deforestation was so complete that a traveler riding from Boston to Philadelphia in 1875 would have seen clear across the hilltops with barely a tree in sight the whole way.  Except for northern Maine, 80% of the forest was cut down between 1830 and 1885.  Eighty percent!
But farming in this rocky, cold soil was hard, and there was so much open land out west --- stump free and stone free.  And cost free if you could homestead.  So the failing farms in the east were abandoned one after another, and nature began to reforest all of them.
By 1925 the forest cover in Connecticut had doubled, with red maple and red oak leading the reclamation.  By the time I was growing up here, over 70% of the state was once again treed.  But by 1972 it stabilized; the farms still being sold or abandoned were offset by the forests being cut down for new development.
It is now unlikely that any more natural reforestation will continue.  There is little open land still left to revert to forest, and population pressure is intense.  Connecticut is the fourth most densely populated state in the nation.

My house is a good example; in 2004 a developer converted the open pastures and treed woodlot of an old dairy farm into a 70 home community, and we moved in.  The good news is that our town has pretty advanced zoning regulations, and it requires every new home built here to have two trees planted in each new yard.

The bad news is they do not specify what kinds of trees, or even that they should be varied.  The builder put two Crimson King Norway maples in front of every single house... that's 140 dark maroon huge invasive monster trees lining both sides of our streets every 40 feet all the way up and all the way down each road.  (Look for a post that I will be doing on these trees in the near future.)

But still, they're trees.  And I have planted more in my little half acre.  And I will plant more.  Because I cannot imagine a time when 80% of our green leafy state was open and bare.  Because the benefits for wildlife, humans and the planet are well documented.  Because they are beautiful, each with its own unique character, and I enjoy them. 

Because it's my message to the future.

A civilization flourishes
when people plant trees 
under whose shade
they will not sit.

Arbor Day, 2010

15 comments:

  1. That was some very interesting history, I had no idea.

    Right now my subdivision is increasing at a rapid rate. For years there were barely any houses in it besides mine. But now they're going up like crazy. And I always shake my head when I see the trees and shrubs the builders plant in the yards...they're either the wrong type of tree for that yard, too close to the house or driveway for the size they'll be...
    Anyway, I feel like going out and planting a tree now lol.

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  2. Ahhh yes, I love trees. The city owns a lot right beside us and they don't take care of it. We have adopted it and have planted several trees. We hope to have a beautiful wooded area some day. At least those that live here in the future will have a lovely shady place to sit or roam.

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  3. Kyna, if I inspired you to go plant a tree, I've succeeded!

    Lisa, how wonderful that you have beautified an abandoned area. You'll be rewarded, even in your own lifetime, and future shade sitters will thank you.

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  4. What a great post, very educative! I didn't know these facts about New England. The first picture is a masterpiece, I love it!

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  5. Tatyana, thanks! I'm glad you learned a little bit about New England.

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  6. Laurrie, wow, that was very enlightening. I do not know any stats about Ontario, but I am sure (at least for southern Ontario) it is very similar. Like you, I am planting trees, not just for me, but for whoever takes care of Kilbourne Grove after us, hopefully they will appreciate it.

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  7. Deborah, those who come after you will love the lime trees and all the others you plant!

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  8. Ok, Laurrie, now I am getting choked up! I love trees and I love the idea of planting for the future. Very inspirational post!

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  9. Garden Ms. S, so much of what we plant and do is really for a future time. Thanks for coming over.

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  10. Love the quote, Laurrie. Planting trees is a great investment in the future. Great post.

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  11. Joene, thanks for visiting!

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  12. It was interesting when we lived in western PA for 3 years -- there are far less trees there than we have in NC. That part of PA was still beautiful and had a lot of gorgeous natural areas, but it always felt strangely bare to me.

    The best neighborhoods I have ever been or lived in had lots of trees.

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  13. Sweet bay, I agree that the nicest neighborhoods, whether in Brooklyn, out in the country or up in the mountains, all had lots of trees.

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  14. Great post ... enjoyed this look back into your state's past. You can never have enough trees!

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  15. Bernie, thanks for stopping by up here. I agree, you can never have too many trees!

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