Commentary

In Praise of Trees

A thoughtful perspective on how well we are treating our trees and if we are doing enough to protect them. 

Photo by Rob Mulally on Unsplash
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Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

In Waipoua Forest on the northernmost tip of New Zealand there is a tree 177-feet-tall and over 2,000 years old. Impressive, yes. Even more impressive is the reverence that the Maori show this primeval giant. It is named Tane Mahuta, “God of the Forest,” after the Maori god who pushed apart the sky father and earth mother to create a place on Earth for humans to live. The tree is so sacred that it is considered taboo to touch it.

Tane Mahuta, in terms of sheer scale, is awesome, inspiring, and sublime. It stood in New Zealand before the first humans arrived on the island. No wonder it is considered a god.

Imagine if we treated our local trees with such reverence. Would we dare cut down even a small god if it shaded our pool or its leaves became a nuisance to rake? Of course, I’m not advocating that we deify the trees. But I do believe that we have lost a connection to them.

American consumer culture has taught us that trees on our property are exactly that, pieces of property, and we can do with them what we please.

Imagine, instead, if we treated trees as the long-lived organisms that they are. That they are not something we own but living things that we must care for as stewards and protectors, just as we care for a loved one or a family pet. How would you feel if your property was home to a 2,000-year-old giant?

Such giants do exist. A bald cypress in a North Carolina swamp is 2,624 years old. A little closer to home, Mohawk Trail State Forest is home to Massachusetts’ oldest trees, a grove of 500-year-old hemlocks. This gets me thinking. Where is Newburyport’s oldest tree? How old is it? What species? Who planted it? Is it in danger of being cut down? There’s a hemlock in my yard, maybe 40 or 50 years old. Will it live 50 more years, much less 450? and what sort of effort will it take to safeguard this tree?

Working in collaboration with ACES, I have been assembling a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving and caring for the trees in our community. This Tree Coalition has representatives from Newburyport’s Tree Commission, Parks Department, and the Friends of Newburyport Trees, as well as local city officials and naturalists. It is my hope that this coalition will help Newburyport live up to its promise as an Arbor Day Foundation-designated Tree City USA.

Local youth are also getting in on the act of tree preservation.

ACES Youth Corps interns recently created signs for a Tree Walk at the Indian Hill Reservoir in West Newbury to educate visitors about the importance of trees. I have been mentoring a passionate group of Newburyport High School students to bring similar interpretive signage to the trees of Atkinson Common. We hope our signage will not just be informative, but inspirational.

“What do we owe trees in return?”

Earth Day may have passed, but it’s never too late to appreciate the vital role that trees play in our community. They give us the air we breathe. They shade us on the hottest summer days. They are universes unto themselves providing habitat for countless insects, birds, and animals. They are also a vital resource and commodity, providing one of the world’s most valuable building materials and harboring a wealth of medical cures and treatments. Trees offer us so much. Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “What do we owe trees in return?” Is clean water and a quiet place to grow enough? Or do they deserve more?

This column was coordinated by ACES youth corps member Caleb Bradshaw. To share any comments or questions, please send an email to acesnewburyport@gmail.com. To learn more about ACES and its Youth Leadership Initiative, visit website https://www.aces-alliance.org.

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about the author
Ted Boretti

A former high school English teacher, Ted relishes any opportunity to work with passionate and creative Youth Corps members as an ACES mentor.  As Chair of Newburyport's Parks Commission, he is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and beautifying Newburyport's parks and the many trees they harbor.

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