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Arbor Day 2019: ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’

By Staff | Apr 26, 2019

Today is National Arbor Day, not to be confused with Earth Day, which was last Monday.

Earth Day began in 1970. It was an effort by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to gather the Anti-Vietnam War movement into a volunteer force to raise environmental awareness.

Arbor Day is much older. It began in 1872 in Nebraska. The new Secretary of the territory, J. Sterling Morton and his wife, Caroline Joy, were very fond of nature but there was not much greenery in Nebraska, so they declared the last Friday of April to be the first Arbor Day. This date was chosen because it was ideal for planting in Nebraska. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, a million trees were planted in the Nebraska Territory on that day. Arbor Day is celebrated around the world but on different days, depending on the best season for planting.

Arbor Day 2019 finds us dwelling on a few disturbing international headlines:

nThe news tells us that 12,000 trees were cut down to erect the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris back in the 12th century. Commentators and experts in the field say that this would be unsustainable today so the cathedral will have to be rebuilt using other means, as yet not described in detail.

nThe Japanese government is being excoriated for planning to destroy large tracts of rain forest to accommodate the crowds for the Summer Olympics.

nThe Nestle Corp. is likewise being chastised for wrecking an animal habitat in the forests of Indonesia to supply the palm oil used in many of their products, including Easter candy.

While these headlines are not encouraging, they do show that planetary awareness is growing. In spite of the destruction, there is a highly vocal international outcry about all of these issues.

Besides the value of trees to give shade and fruit and nutrients to the soil, as well as photosynthesis, our tree friends also help us to cope with the stress of modern life. In the first episode of his new show “Chasing Life” (Saturday nights at 9 p.m. on CNN), Sanjay Gupta visited Japan. While there, he discovered that Japan is even more workaholic than the U.S. One of several national efforts to help Japan’s work force cope with typical weeks of 100 hours overtime without pay, is called the Forest Bath. Participants spend a weekend at a spa in the forest and soak up the aroma and energy of the trees to help them relax.

Beyond all this is the spiritual relationship humans have with trees. We need to rediscover that bond by unlearning our view of trees as just something pretty to look at, or as commercial commodities. Thomas Merton, 20th century Trappist monk and mystic, wrote, “Nothing has ever been said about god that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the trees.”

To learn more about the importance of trees, read Peter Wohlleben’s book, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate.”

Bill O’Brien is a consciousness coach and shamanic practitioner. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at billobrienconsciousnesscoach@gmail.com.