Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 13, 2016

Trees of my life

Every morning before I roll out of bed, I take a moment to look at the trees in our back yard. Then I make my way to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, pausing, once again, to check out the trees beyond the kitchen window. I especially love the spring transformation when the fresh green leaves unfurl on the gray-brown branches. Before long, they form a border that completely blocks out the farming fields to the south of our property.

Recent articles I read about Arbor Day celebrations reminded me of how important trees were to me and others in my farming family. Mom was a fan of Arbor Day and, after she died, I found several of the foundation's brochures among her papers.

She ordered trees from the foundation almost every year, encouraging me to plant them either in her yard or mine. The redbud sapling she gave us nearly 20 years ago is now tall enough to protect our deck from the morning sun.

National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April. On that day, people are encouraged to plant trees. The brainchild of J. Sterling Morton, it originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska. The first Arbor Day was April 10, 1872 and more than a million trees were planted in that state.

Today, Arbor Day is celebrated in all 50 states and in many countries around the world. At the American School in La Paz, Bolivia, where my sister Gaila is the school librarian, the teachers and students celebrated both Arbor Day and Earth Day, which is also in April.

"We had Earth Week, not just Earth Day," she told me. "We dressed in green and each grade level is in the process of projects - composting, paper recycling and making paper from that, making a greenhouse, and growing veggies to put in the greenhouse. Today, [many people from] the embassies went to school to help kids plant trees and bushes. We learned all about reduce, re-use and recycle and rethink our lives. It was great, but it should be every day not just one."

Kansas State University has been a recognized Tree Campus USA since 2013. Tree Campus USA is a national program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, and it recognizes college campuses that promote appropriate tree care practices and the benefits of trees to a sustainable world. Over the years, I've taken dozens of photos of the Bradford pears, crab apple trees, redbuds, magnolias, oaks, maples and ginkgos on campus.

An April issue of "Parade" magazine listed three reasons to plant trees: trees help fight global warming by taking carbon dioxide from the air; they increase a home's value by 15 percent or more; and birds love trees and "who doesn't want to be serenaded with birdsongs?"

"Trees are a solution to many of the global issues we face today, improving air quality and water quality and helping mitigate climate change, deforestation, poverty and hunger," said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, in that same issue of "Parade".

But even more than those noble reasons for planting trees, they bring us delight in our everyday lives. The gnarly mulberry trees of my early days growing up on the farm were the source of hours of fun for Gaila and me. We pretended the trees were monsters that had to be subdued by feeding them mud balls. We also gathered the juicy berries and ate them straight off the tree, much to Mom's chagrin.

A cedar tree planted by my Grandfather Robert Freeland and his mother Mary provided shade on my wedding day to my late husband Jerome. When lightning, wind and pests took their toll on the tree, Mom and Dad gave it new life by having cedar clocks made for themselves and each of us three kids and small cedar jewelry boxes made for all of us and our grandchildren. Mom put a note inside each: "This chest is a keepsake from the cedar tree that grew on the Freeland farm."

The tree that stands in front of the house Jerome and I bought in 1982 was only a few feet tall. Now it towers over the street, providing shade to cars that park along the curb or people walking along the sidewalk.

The pin oak husband Art and I have in our front yard is the last to lose its reddish copper leaves in the fall and the last to get new growth each spring. One day when she was just a youngster, daughter Mariya climbed the tree and began waving at us. We thought she was just showing us how high she'd climbed. In reality, she didn't know how to get down, but didn't want to embarrass herself by saying so.

One day, a small owl landed on one of its branches. Our cat Cookie, in an attempt to get as close as possible, perched on the top of the living room couch, acting as if she was ignoring the owl, yet watched it until I opened the door and it flew away.

Some people plant trees to honor loved ones. Friend Wanda and her siblings recently planted a tree outside their mother's assisted living facility so she can enjoy it from her window. Stan, Mom's companion for more than 10 years, worked in both agriculture and veterinary medicine at K-State. His sons planted a red oak tree on campus to commemorate his work. It now stands 40 feet high.

A few years ago, I wrote a column about a tree planted in memory of William Grimm, who was a K-Stater killed in Operation Desert Storm. I hadn't noticed the tree until I saw U.S. flags on either side of the plaque near Veterans Day. Now I think of William Grimm every time I pass to go from my office to the car.

When a classmate of daughter Katie died in a traffic accident, the school planted a tree in Logan's honor on the elementary school campus.

Trees destroyed when tornadoes and hurricanes rip through communities adds to the sense of grief and loss. When I visited Greensburg, Kansas the fall after the May 4, 2007 tornado, I was shocked at the number of uprooted and sheared-off trees. For years after, community members talked about how hard it was to see those once-stately trees in such a state of destruction.

Trees are important for the physical health of our world, but I think they�re important for us psychologically too. The idea of a tree of life has been used in biology, religion, philosophy and mythology, and hints at the interconnection of life on our planet. The trees of my life have provided me with beauty, fun, a sense of stability and a feeling of connectedness with nature.

What a different emotional reaction is produced by the now healthy and stately tree that was only 6 feet tall when Jerome and I moved into our home in 1982, left, compared to the tree in Greensburg after the 2007 tornado.

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