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Trees: an appreciation

An opportunity rooted in Greenfield

“A society grows great when (the elders) plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

— Greek proverb

Elders like these gifted me such trees where I grew up. Mature trees lined streets named Oak and Walnut and Maple and flourished in the series of parks that ran through town. I could get on a bike and ride for hours in shade or dappled sunlight and come home to lie on a hammock strung between two huge maples in the backyard. The branches soaring toward the sky and the leaves moving in a gentle breeze are still so clear in my mind’s eye and I know my childhood would have been so much less without them.

When I lived in Brooklyn, refuge from the traffic, crowds and pervasive human construction was found in Prospect Park, Central Park, the gorgeous botanic gardens, and in the neighborhoods with tree-lined streets. Wandering in these places where friends and families congregated was delightful and in stark contrast to turning a corner and coming upon a treeless street where a feeling of desolation was palpable.

Here in western Massachusetts, we live among trees and their gifts are boundless. They give us oxygen and shade, provide food and beauty, filter noise and glare, help prevent flooding and improve water quality. For us humans, they help reduce heating and air-conditioning costs. For other animals, they are places to live. A tree behind my house is home to one of my favorite friends — a squirrel who twirls on her shoulders, jumps four feet straight up in the air and wrestles with sticks. Other backyard trees are visiting places for woodpeckers, homes to insects and roosts for large birds whose wings flap like small blankets as they settle in for the night.

Trees are also magnificent in and of themselves. Chekov once wrote, “A tree is beautiful, but what’s more, it has a right to life; like water, the sun and the stars, it is essential. Life on earth is inconceivable without trees.” Trees can miraculously turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food and many are among the oldest living beings on Earth with life spans of thousands of years.

In an amazing study, researchers at the University of British Columbia have begun to unravel systems that indicate trees are in symbiotic relationships with each other. These researchers have identified networks of fungi, roots, soil and micro-organisms similar to the networks of neurons and axons in the human brain and their working The hypothesis is that these networks give a forest, in their words, its own consciousness.

Before scientific discoveries such as these, trees have been honored and praised throughout human history. Many religions hold certain trees sacred, while others use them as teaching metaphors. Here in Greenfield, in the early 1900s, The Woman’s Club honored them by raising enough money to buy the land called Temple Woods adjacent to Highland Park and selling it to the town for $1 with the provision “… that it be kept in its present natural condition…”

Today, their spirit is alive and well in the Greenfield Tree Committee, which advocates for the protection and health of town trees, the planting of more trees in our downtown and parks and along our streets, and the creation of community space under trees with the installation of benches and flowers. This group is comprised of people with different backgrounds who share a love of trees. An invitation is open to everyone to get involved. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 5:15 p.m. with the next meeting at the Greenfield Public Library on Feb. 26.

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

With the Sustainable Master Plan and Beautification Project under way, Greenfield has a wonderful opportunity to nurture the trees that were planted years ago and to enthusiastically plant many more for their own sake, for us, for the other species that share this land with us, and for the generations to come.

Marian Kelner is a member of the Greenfield ad hoc Tree Committee.

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