Giving thanks to the ash trees on Arbor Day
National Arbor Day, always set for the last Friday in April, is meant to celebrate the importance of trees!
As I walk around Saint Mary-of-the-Woods these days amid the limbs and trunks of more than 60 ash trees that have been cut down because of the advance of the Emerald Ash Borer, I feel a need to say thanks, to find a way to acknowledge their importance.
Given that the life expectancy of an ash tree ranges from 120 years for a green ash and 260 years for a white ash, these ash trees have been working hard for a long time to keep Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and our bioregion green, and, therefore, safe.
Treepeople.org lists 22 of the best reasons to plant and care for trees or defend a tree’s standing. Among them:
- Trees clean the air by absorbing odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen, oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. In one year, an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people,
- Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall, thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This reduces the volume of water rushing through gutters and pipes following a storm. This means less investment in expensive infrastructure and – importantly – cleaner water when the runoff reaches rivers and lakes,
- Trees help prevent soil erosion. On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place, and
- Trees combat climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
And let’s not forget their powers of healing and hospitality, including:
- Trees shield people from ultra-violet rays, reducing UV-B exposure by about 50 percent. An ash tree grows 70- to 80-feet tall, providing easy-care shade,
- Trees provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife,
- Trees mark the seasons, and
- Trees literally heal. Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complication. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue. Our own Saint Mother Theodore may have known these very ash trees and found solace walking among them.
Thank you, ash trees of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and elsewhere, for your beauty AND your service.
Since 2002, when the Emerald Ash Borer arrived in Michigan attached to wooden pallets from Asia, it has destroyed more than 25 million ash trees. Significant resources have been spent to find a way to stop the Emerald Ash Borer, but as of yet, nothing has proved successful. Many states are organizing ash tree seed collection efforts, where seeds will be maintained at optimal conditions until a solution to the borer problem can be found.
It may be awhile until we see some form of ash tree at the Woods again. Hopefully, this infestation reminds us that we must be vigilant in our care of all creation. Seeing our own Woods suffer the loss of these friendly giants also reminds me to celebrate our trees every day, not just on Arbor Day.
I found the following missive that has been posted in the forest reserves of Portugal for more than 1,000 years. Perhaps it says it all:
“I am the heart of your hearth on the cold winter nights; the friendly shade which screens you from the summer sun; and my fruits quench your thirsts as you journey on.
I am the beam which supports your house, the board of your table, the bed on which you sleep, and the timber which builds your boat.
I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your home, the wood of your cradle and the shell of your coffin. I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty. You who pass by, please … listen to my prayer – HARM ME NOT.”
(Source: “Spread a Little Sunshine,” Camp Tawingo Publications, R.R.#1, Huntsville, Ontario POA1KO. 1987. Used by permission)