I probably should have written this column last week, but I believe Arbor Week continues through Saturday; so I’m still current. The City Council enjoyed a presentation Wednesday night from our urban forester, Craig Carnagey, and a number of volunteers who have done some great work to enhance Albany’s status as a “Tree City USA. “The 20 or more students from West and South Albany High Schools who showed up and sat through the hour-long program to express their appreciation for the contribution of wood to their shop class by Mike Doolittle and the efforts of Tree Commissioner Mark Azevedo were inspiring to me.
I need to confess that I am a “tree hugger.” I think trees should be harvested to provide needed materials, but I also think they should be protected from poor and unsustainable practices. Albany has done a good, if sometimes imperfect, job of planting and protecting trees throughout the city. We also have a legacy of trees that have been passed on from preceding generations that make the community a more desirable place to live. The leaves can be a nuisance, and sometimes the trees themselves are dangerous; but the benefits outweigh the costs.
The importance of a Heritage Tree program was best illustrated for me at a ceremony in La Grande a few years ago. We were celebrating the designation of a black walnut tree on the campus of Eastern Oregon University, and I must admit to a certain lack of enthusiasm on my part. I was a strong supporter of the program; but it was a hot day, and I seem to remember thinking that listening to tree speeches was not the most appealing way to spend my time at that moment. My mind was changed when the great granddaughter of the man who planted the black walnut in the late 19th century came to the podium and told the small assembly its story. The tree was planted to provide shade for the grave of the man’s wife who passed away after many years of a marriage partnership that survived all the challenges of raising a family on the frontier. There was no water near the grave site, and the speaker explained how her aged great grandfather carried a bucket up the hill until his death to nourish the tree that shaded the grave. I am still moved by the story of this selfless act of service, and I am grateful for the Heritage Tree program that gave me the opportunity to hear it. There is a plaque near the tree that provides that same opportunity for generations to follow.
Trees are more than a commodity or even an environmental asset. They are living links to our community heritage that nourish us in ways we may not fully understand. I think I have quoted in an earlier blog a former mayor of Kansas City who I heard relate one of my favorite aphorisms: “Plant a tree in whose shade you will never sit.” I can think of no better summary of the purpose of Arbor Week.