I began the day—began the year in fact—with a walk. Bundled in warm armor to shield me from freezing temperatures, I stepped outside, made my way down the hill, then paused. Something caught my attention, something ligneous and russet and green, something delicate and promising, something that one day will bridge the space between heaven and earth. The Celebration Tree Grove, a coordinated effort for remembrance and reforestation. How simple a thing, yet equally how powerful.
Even as forests are lost and extinctions increase, devoted citizens of Dallas came together to plant trees. As steward for some of the rarest remnants of the Blackland Prairie ecosystem in existence, the City of Dallas joined them. And nonprofit organizations came to help with a reforestation effort that would show the true spirit of thinking globally while acting locally. Thus the Celebration Tree Grove was born.
So in this, the 43rd edition of Festival of the Trees, I hope you’ll be my guest as I walk these paths, stand beneath these trees, feel their rough bark against my fingertips.
The grove stretches out before me, stone trails and wooden benches leading me through the birth of a place where loved ones are honored, remembered and celebrated. Not remembered through statues and not honored with memorials. A more important kind of dedication celebrates lives lost: the planting of trees. The grove represents the very spirit of 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity:
You are an integral part of nature; your fate is tightly linked with biodiversity, the huge variety of other animals and plants, the places they live and their surrounding environments, all over the world.
You rely on this diversity of life to provide you with the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials you simply cannot live without. Yet this rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. This impoverishes us all and weakens the ability of the living systems, on which we depend, to resist growing threats such as climate change.
The United Nations proclaimed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, and people all over the world are working to safeguard this irreplaceable natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss. This is vital for current and future human wellbeing. We need to do more. Now is the time to act.
The International Year of Biodiversity is a unique opportunity to increase understanding of the vital role that biodiversity plays in sustaining life on Earth.
I stand at the beginning of the trail and look ahead at a beautiful sight: trees young as newborn babes and trees ancient like Earth itself. Some dance in shadows like charcoal drawings, some stand upright, new and vibrant like art throughout the ages, and some tower over me with souls that long ago surpassed prose until they became poetry incarnate. In this place one cannot help but find the spiritual side of trees.
There are the weak who simply need help to survive, the godlike with their magics and powers and untold beauty, the mighty and powerful who stand unequaled and unchallenged by all but man, and the potently strange who battle the imagination for awe. Any one of them could be my personal tree.
Already I can taste on the air which of them offers sustenance with but a little culinary creativity and which offers delight with but picking the fruit from its limbs. Some look familiar while others dress in otherworldly forms. Better still, the very beautiful can be food for those who share the planet with us—even if they usually eat the merry color before the holidays begin.
I take my rest upon a bench nestled against woods wherein lurks all manner of secrets and discoveries, a place where the trees themselves can hide things, a riparian forest where the shepherds of history stand watching, gods of the trees upon whose limbs I’ve climbed and under whose branches I’ve watched dappled sunlight dance. The still verdant scent of the evergreen trees fills these woods, the Douglas fir and the pitch pine who stay dressed for winter despite the nakedness of their cousins. And though the season might beset them with snow and ice and bitter cold, a wintry walk through their embrace can make one feel young as when the world was new.
Their collective fate gives me pause when I see the whispers of snow still clinging to them, and I wonder how they survive the weather’s assaults. Not just weather, though, for what might indicate a beetle population calls into question what sapsuckers and insects and other creatures might do to bring down one of these behemoths. As I stand to walk away, my foot rolls atop an acorn and I’m given my answer before the question forms: the magic of life hiding inside its shell is a giant waiting to take form, and what fate befalls the parent does not restrain the many children waiting to blossom.
The sound of stone crunching beneath my feet echoes each footfall. Absently, as though my outstretched arms have their own minds, my fingers brush against rough bark as I give each tree a glance. Can I name them by these sensations alone? Then my eyes fall upon it: a tree decorated as though part of a Celtic celebration of yore. I marvel at it, wonder about it, then slowly become aware of others similarly adorned (click here for English translation). I feel certain they must be part of the upcoming Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish “New Year of the Trees.”
I watch a phoebe land atop a bristlecone pine where the bird utters its namesake before flitting to a sister tree not too distant, a plant so beautiful and endearing that one hardly has words to describe it. Around one of them I notice instruments wrapped around its trunk, gadgets that help science learn about threats to us all. I’m left to ponder how many such opportunities have vanished in the teeth of pulp and paper mills, or have been thrown in refuse piles to make room for crops. A year full of trees cannot give me the answers, I realize. So I move on, walking, letting the cool shadows brush my cheeks, feeling winter’s icy fingers as they claw at my bare neck.
The trail behind me and my home resting not too far ahead, I leave the Celebration Tree Grove feeling both uplifted and challenged. What has been accomplished here is phenomenal. What remains to be done is daunting at least.
We fight silly street tree controversies because a monoculture recommendation infringes on our personal aesthetics, but is it better to fight the planting of trees because we want something different growing in front of the homes that destroyed their forefathers, or is it better to say public spaces should be full of such monstrous beauties?
We play it safe by keeping our jobs and our retirement savings and our thoughts of the future, but is it better to face a comfortable personal outlook or to step into the great beyond with little experience but plenty of ambition to save biodiversity one small woodland at a time?
We see the horror of what is and what is to come through something as ubiquitous as technology, and we say carbon credits and trading pollution problems are the answers even when those approaches deceive and push the problems forward, much as we have done for a very long time. Do we act now or do we wait?
As I climb the hill toward home, the Celebration Tree Grove behind me, I’m reminded of something Lucy Larcom once said: “He who plants a tree plants a hope.” And that brings me to what the IUCN says:
We are facing a serious crisis in biodiversity, the elaborate network of animals, plants and the places where they live on the planet. And when we talk of animal species, we also mean humans.
The rate that animal and plant species are becoming extinct, and the pace at which natural environments are being destroyed, are increasing every day.
This beautiful, complex natural diversity underpins all life on the planet, and its escalating loss is a serious threat to humans and our way of life, now and in the future.
Well managed natural resources are crucial to sustainable development, supporting peaceful communities, encouraging well-balanced economic growth and helping reduce poverty.
What I’ve learned walking these trails and seeing these trees is simple: the Celebration Tree Grove is not just in Dallas and it’s not just at White Rock Lake. The Celebration Tree Grove is where you live, it’s where you work, it’s where you play and where you travel and where you go to get gas and the store you visit to buy groceries. The Celebration Tree Grove will never be found on a map. It can only be found where people decide that now is the time to be responsible, where people realize for generations we’ve said it can be someone else’s problem but where those same people now see that answer is no longer enough. It can be found anywhere people discover the truth of Thomas Fuller’s words: “He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”
I hope you find your Celebration Tree Grove soon. And I hope you share the discovery.
— — — — — — — — — —
The next Festival of the Trees will be hosted at treeblog on February 1, 2010. Please send your e-mail submissions to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk by January 30 (or you can use the festival contact form). Note that all submissions are welcome for the carnival, so please don’t hesitate to send along your entry.