Wednesday, November 4, 2015

One leaf at a time...

Over the past 25 years I lived within a place that many people know as the Evergreen State: Washington.  You know it. Land of a few famous musicians, the Space Needle, apples, the Seattle Freeze, Starbucks.... blah, blah blah. The list goes on. But for me it was always the land of trees. Lots of them. All over. I'm a big fan of them, even the evil fir trees that like to try to kill me with their overabundance of pollen. 

In my life time I have always lived in areas where these lovely, green monstrosities are abundant. Between the Willamette Valley, the Puget Sound, and now western Pennsylvania I have always been near a plethora of plant life.  It's just comforting to me. Towering, living bundles of carbohydrates taking in the carbon dioxide we emit and giving back oxygen. Really, it's an amazing bit of symbiotic living.

Anyway, I'm on the tree kick right now because last week the kids and I planted a tree in the back yard. Yes, I know we are just renting this place for now, but it makes sense to make improvements. I've taken out some ugly shrubs but I still want greenery. I still want my kids to have a yard that shows my desire to improve the planet we live on. And, if all things work out well, we would like to make a bid on the house next year to make it our permanent landing spot.

So, we planted a pear tree. Funny. I don't like pears. Can't stand the texture. Don't like the taste. But we planted one. My wife loves pears as do my kids. So, we planted a pear tree. When it comes down to it I like they way they look, so it's all good.

Oddly enough, I have been asked why I would plant a pear tree. Why not a cedar, a maple, an ash? Really, it comes down to a few things.

Over the years the tree we planted (a red bartlett dwarf pear) will yield about 1-3 bushels of fruit a year. That means in a couple of years the tree will be keeping us (or whomever lives here) stocked with pears for eating, canning, drying, etc... But that's not the only reason. In time the tree will provide a modicum of shade for the backyard. Not much, but the tree should grow to about 15-20 feet tall with a fifteen foot spread. That is just enough for a young adult to lay under and do homework or simply day dream. It will also be a marker of time. Right now it's about a foot taller than the kids. I plan on keeping a photographic history of the tree for as long as we're here. I grew up in a house where my parents planted young Douglas firs that were the same height as me. Now they are well over thirty feet tall. I love looking up at them and thinking that they grew up with me. With luck, my kids will do the same, though they won't be quite so dwarfed in the end.

The thing about trees is they aren't just pretty. They don't just provide food. Trees are natures bio-filter. They are natures carbon-sink. Did you know that an acre of trees can capture the same amount of carbon that you release when you drive 26,000 miles? It also provides enough air for 18 people for the year. They clean the air and remove particulates simply by catching in their leaves and bark. Heck, they even save water. All the shade a tree provides keeps extra water from being evaporated from the ground below. That means healthier plants beneath and less watering for your lawn. Plus they release moisture into the air as they transpire (you know... tree breathing). Plus, that shade and water release helps cool the air around us. Every tree you plant helps keep some of that pesky sunlight (this is my redhead bias coming through) from hitting the ground and heating up the ambient temperature in the city.

Think of it, if we planted more trees in vacant spaces of the cities around us the leaves would be catching the sunlight and prevent the pavement nearby from being quite so warm. The released water from transpiration would also cool the air slightly. That same sunlight would be providing food for the trees, which allows them to grow more and in turn absorb more carbon dioxide (you know... that greenhouse gas that we all breathe out that is helping to heat the planet). And if these trees are around homes we live in they can even reduce our cooling costs of our homes by also keeping them out of the aforementioned pesky sunlight. And, of course, less energy spent means a lower carbon footprint for our homes too.

By this point in time I'm sure you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah... I know. We've heard it all before."  Which is fine. Hell, I hope you have heard it before. (Repetition leads to remembering, or so I've  been told.) But it's not just for the financial benefit or for the obvious environmental impact.  Planting trees has a tremendous social impact as well.

When we lived in Tacoma, WA, we noticed that there was a very distinct difference between what was considered the "rich" and the "poor" parts of town. It wasn't the quality of the homes or their size. It was the trees, or actually the lack of them.  In the poorest sections of town most of the trees had been taken down. The towering evergreens were gone. The oak trees are barely scattered around. Nothing of any height can be seen for blocks and blocks. People complain about the amount of violence that happens in these areas. It has been found neighborhoods that lack tree cover tend have greater occurrences of violence both in and out of home than neighborhoods which are lush with trees. We are the human animal. We are part of nature. If we completely remove ourselves from it we suffer. It has also been found that trees are both calming and healing. Apparently people heal faster even when just given the ability to view nearby trees. Kids with ADHD exhibit less symptoms. Even just being in green areas is said to help reduce mental fatigue by letting our bodies just relax without being surrounded by so much concrete and synthetic materials around.

Now think about what would happen if we planted more trees in those poorer neighborhoods. If violent crime goes down, people are less stressed, and fear is reduced..... how much does that benefit the area? Immeasurably.  Pair that with the fact that well-planted properties can increase the value of a home by nearly 15%. That's a great thing. Happier people with more value to their homes. Add in the economic gains they can get by having the trees and the environmental benefit of helping the world in general. Well, that seems pretty much like a no-brainer.

So, trees. I've planted a few. I know I'll plant a few more. How about you?

Here's my deal. Two a year. That's what I'll do. A minimum of two. My challenge to you (the unknown reader of this long-winded post) is to do the same. They don't have to be just for you. Find a neighbor, a school, a church, an empty lot... whatever. Plant them. Tend them so they get established and teach people about them.  Other wise we appear to be destined to live in a world of only cement and glass.  I'll do the same. Together we can keep our world green. You know... one leaf at a time.

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