“If one tree fruits, they all fruit–there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective….what we see is the power of unity.”Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday. Arbor Day, which started in my home state of Nebraska, has been celebrated for 150 years and is now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.
Each generation takes the earth as trustees.—J. Sterling Morton
The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist and newspaper editor, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.
He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)Read more: Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!
On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated, and this year for the 150th time! Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.
Celebrating Arbor Day is a reminder of our interconnectedness with all living things. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encourages taking responsibility for the health of our planet by cooperating “as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si, 14)
St. Benedict encourages us to “listen with the ear of the heart,” to see all of life as sacred, and to experience the connectedness we have with all of creation. Consider spending time listening to the trees. Perhaps we can be reminded that what happens to one, happens to all.
“There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right–the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning…The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranan networks of mycorrhizae, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots…They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking…Through unity, surivial. All flourishing is mutual.”Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.-Richard Powers, The Overstory
The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers, is a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees.
“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain.”(Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )
In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.
Benediction of the Trees
From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt
Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees
Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide
Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees
A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong
In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees
As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say
In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees
© Jodi Blazek Gehr