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Exploring the roots of Arbor Day

By Staff | Apr 24, 2009

–“Careful, son, as you pack dirt around the roots. Now, a bit of water and you can finish it off with scoops of dirt pressed down firmly – but do not pack.” These were the words articulated by my father as we planted many a tree in our yard. I learned to love and enjoy trees from my dad. When we moved to the north end of Underwood, there was not a tree on our property. My dad, being an amateur arborist, has made this segment of Underwood property arborous!

Many a spring evening two redheads in blue striped overalls could be seen planting trees as the warm hues and long shadows closed the day. My dad has worn overalls forever, and most of them were blue striped. I sat by my dad at our dining table and sought to be just like him. Before long, I was strolling about in blue striped overalls just like his! I admit from early on I have enjoyed fashion – the color, the style, and even a bit of the vogue. I sashayed around Underwood in an ivory linen suit with a sailboat on the pocket plus a bow tie at age three. In a pioneering sense, I knew if I wanted to plant trees with my dad, bibs were a must.

It is a wonderful element in the world when a father and son connect. For Dad and me, it was the planting that formed our connection. Our yard abounded with Dad’s favorites-plum and apple trees. I was introduced to cottonwoods, Russian olives, willows, American elms, green ash, lilacs and raspberries by him. My dad always took the time to acknowledge Arbor Day and the importance of it. He shared with me how trees provide shade to keep us and our homes cool on hot summer days. This was especially important since we operated a mobile home court. Many a day we could stroll through our park and witness renters enjoying the benefits of the trees. I also realized that action and success go hand in hand. Our early toils in the soil were now the bliss of our renters.

Dad also taught me that trees are beautiful to look at. On long summer days I discovered, along with my brothers, how exciting it was to climb in trees or simply dream under them after swimming or a long bike ride. To this date, I still find myself listening to leaves rustling in the breeze and the whispering of the pines. While pushing Lydia in her baby buggy, we together observed these as well. Imagine my elation when on a recent windy day she said to me, “Daddy, the pine trees are talking!”

Let’stake a moment a dig into the roots of Arbor Day. The grand proposal for Arbor Day came from Julius Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, Neb. Morton and his wife, Caroline, were pioneers in the Nebraska Territory in 1854. Arriving on the barren, treeless land they saw a stark contrast to the wooded area they were accustomed to in Michigan. Being lovers of nature, they wanted to add trees to the Nebraska landscape in a big way.

Being the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper gave Morton, a journalist, the perfect tool to convey his idea. His enthusiasm for trees soon began to branch out; before long he was promoting tree planting and cultivating. He took the time to speak about environmental stewardship and shared how all of life is interrelated.

It took Morton 23 years, but in 1872 the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture accepted his resolution “to set aside one day to plant trees.” The Board declared April 10 as Arbor Day. It was not long before Arbor Day was celebrated in all 50 states and around the world. Folks took to this in a big way, and soon prizes were offered to countries and individuals for their exceptional efforts in planting trees. It was with this first tree planting celebration that J. Sterling Morton became known as the Father of Arbor Day. The date of Arbor Day has always varied from state to state, and it often depends on the planting season. Down the road, most states declared April 22 as Arbor Day, the birth date of J. Sterling Morton. It has now been transplanted to the last Friday in the month of April.

Earth Day was the brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who envisioned it as a national teaching day on the environment. It was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. I recently looked at a calendar in our home, and it has both Earth Day, April 22, and Arbor Day, April 24, listed. This is the perfect time to understand and act on the words that John F. Kennedy said, “To those to whom much is given, much is required.” So let us plant a tree. Maybe it will be on our farm, in our backyard, at the park, or the walking path. By doing this simple act, generations to come will benefit and certainly live better.

Now, we cannot talk about trees without thinking about a picnic. Last week you received the recipe for chicken at the picnic. This week I share with you a perfect picnic salad.

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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