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A Good Tree Is a Good Friend

And a forest is halfway to heaven

Spring is in the air, and our hands are in the earth.    
    I’ve seen you greenscaping block-end gardens in Annapolis for Earth Day. I’ve seen you planting and mulching at St. Martin’s Lutheran School. I’ve seen you loading up at Greenstreet and Homestead Gardens and at London Town, Calvert and Four Rivers garden clubs’ plant sales. I’ve seen you digging in your garden, and I’ve seen the irrepressible flowering following previous years’ plantings.
    Above us, the upper story is leafing into canopy, adding a green layer between us and sky-blue.
    The top story is a whole different story.
    Pansies and lilacs can be taken in hand. What’s easier than to plant a pansy? Pull the little fresh-faced flower out of its plastic pot, run your fingers though its thready roots as the fine potting soil breaks free, wiggle it into a hole. A young lilac is not much harder, if you have a good spade. Flowers and shrubs are manageable, and their destinies imaginable.
    Trees are not the same.
    A tree may start as a whip as frail as the ash my son brought home from school one now-ancient Arbor Day. Give it a roothold in earth and half a measure of luck, and it will grow into a giant. If that ash had any luck, it now towers above our old home at 1429 South Second Street in Springfield, Illinois, no doubt to the irritation of current homeowners, for — as with most trees put in earth by my hands — it was not planted in imagination of what could come. From one tree a giant can come; from a few a grove and from a bunch a forest.
    Giants, groves or forests, trees are good company — unless you’ve put them right in front of your waterview or outside your door. Just as trees outlive our imagination, they inspire our aspirations and enrich our inhalations. Shade, scenery, windbreak, BTUs, board feet, buffer, habitat: We see many values in trees.
    Why are trees important, I ask writer Emily Myron, one of my sylvan dryads who has in her sack of credentials a master’s degree in ecosystem science and conservation from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
    Why aren’t they important? Myron answers. Trees provide us clean air and water (by filtering water and slowing its flow), hold the soil to reduce erosion and run-off (also sending water back to the water table instead of just running off), and provide habitat — from the crooks in branches, to the cavities in the trunk, to the roots. They store carbon, regulate local climates and conserve water. Not to mention the joy they bring to people as icons of beauty, places to explore and recreate, and branches from which one can hang a swing. Finally, there is evidence of public health benefits (likely tied to all of the above) and quality of life.
    Lots of imagination of what could grow has been invested in assuring Marylanders a forested destiny.
    This year’s General Assembly made the preservation of our forests the law of the land. That means tree canopy will spread over no less than 40 percent of our state. No-net-loss of forest is state policy on public lands. Three-quarters of Maryland forests are owned by families, the forest industry and private organizations. To keep these lands forested, the Forest Preservation Act of 2013 doubles the income tax credit for family-owned forest management, including planting of streamside forests, removing invasive species and improving wildlife habitat.
    The Forest Preservation Act gave a big boost to Maryland Arbor Day, which stretches through the whole month of April, with the national holiday on the month’s last Friday.
    In other Arbor Day celebrations, 1,500 students — including those at Cape St. Claire Elementary — planted 30,000 trees across Maryland through the Stream Restoration Challenge. AAA combined Arbor and Earth Days, promising to plant a tree in America’s National Forests on behalf of every member who uses the auto club’s Battery Program from April 21 through April 27.
    With trees all around us, I thought it was about time for Bay Weekly to come into the forest. Writer Leigh Glenn, another Bay Weekly dryad, guides us there, explaining that amazing things can happen in forests of big trees. Miracles are why Marylander Joan Maloof is assembling Old Growth Forest Network with at least one old-growth forest in each county in the nation.
    Read. Then visit. We have one right in our own backyard.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]