Judging by the underwhelming response I got from my last post, I take it people don’t want to hear about the quagmire where enthusiastic nature folks inevitably butt heads with corporate and political powers. Well, I can’t blame them. It isn’t a lot of fun. Silence is a critic and it tells me, Just shut up, Franklin; cast the damn rod and talk about the fishing. I reply with a nod and say, I can do that, but instead of casting a rod this time, I’ll sling willow trees instead. I’ll plant willows on the streambanks by the hundreds. I will not complain this time, and I won’t take sides.
This year the tree thing started with my being drafted into an elementary school production celebrating Arbor Day. I was to be the statue of J. Sterling Morton, Minnesota ex-patriot who moved to Nebraska in the 1850s and founded what is known as Arbor Day. A boring role, but I decided not to be “taken for granite” in the school and to act the character for the good of the order. I would not complain; I would not take sides.
After the stage production, the fifth grade class planted a sugar maple on the campus (with assistance) and every student received a Norway spruce tree, a seedling, of their own to plant where he or she wanted. Norway spruce– I bit my lip, recalling an acre of matured Norways on my land that were spinning off seedlings like a universe casting off stars. Nothing short of chainsaw massacre could slow them down, so that my favored trees, like native white pine, might have a chance to grow. Hungry deer in winter will not touch a spruce, but pines and other trees will do. I wondered what trees J. Sterling Morton planted on his prairie home after moving out of Michigan in the 1850s. He quickly encouraged the state of Nebraska to plant a million of them. Soon after, Arbor Day was adopted across the country as an official holiday. I don’t know for sure, but he probably planted Norway spruce, enough to make Nebraska look like Norway without the fiords. I thought of schoolkids running home with Norway spruce in hand, to fill a flowerpot, to green the village like a Scandinavian park. That said, I would not complain and I wouldn’t take sides.
The weekend following Arbor Day I joined a handful of Trout Unlimited fellows for our annual tree planting along the headwaters of the Genesee River. It’s a job that makes you glad there’s grilled hot dogs and a few hours of fishing afterward. The night had been freezing, the morning brisk, and my crossing of the stream, now high with snowmelt, pushed an icy rivulet through leaky waders. Cold! I could’ve thrown my willow bundles to the far bank, but I didn’t complain; I did not take sides.
I got 200 willows in the ground that day. Next morning I took a remaining bundle of 100 trees and planted a project area of another tributary. Alone now on a Sunday morning on the banks of a brook trout stream, I felt relaxed, confident, unpressured, alive to the songs of newly arrived birds. The work was good for the unseen order that is nature. Willows help to stabilize the banks and hold the soil; they give shade and nutrients to the water; they protect the trout, and help the angler and the planter realize that the work is not yet in vain. The wind heard no complaints; the only sides I favored were the banks of a brook trout home.