Friday, April 28, 2017

The Original Tree Hugger’s Holiday—Godfather to Environmentalism

Not your parent's environmental movement--youth and people of color lead the mass People's Climate Change March in New York City in 2014.


Tomorrow will be the second huge world-wide protest in week inspired by environmental crisis and the urgent need to take action when climate change seems to be dangerously accelerating  and perhaps near or at the point of no return for global catastrophe.  Last Saturday on Earth Day was the March for Science with millions around the world taking to the streets.  The focus was on the all-fronts assault on science not only by the new administration but by an international oligarchy aiming to sweep aside all obstacles to an agenda environmental rapine for short term profit, patriarchy, and theocracy.
This week the People’s Climate March will bring hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C.  and many more to scores of sister marches in the United States and Canada.  According to the march call:
On the 100th Day of the Trump Administration, we will be in the streets of Washington D.C. to show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet.
We will come together from across the United States to strengthen our movement. We will demonstrate our power and resistance at the gates of the White House. We will bring our solutions to the climate crisis, the problems that affect our communities and the threats to peace to our leaders in Congress to demand action.
·       We invite you to join the Peoples Climate Movement on Saturday, April 29th as we march to: Advance solutions to the climate crisis rooted in racial, social and economic justice, and committed to protecting front-line communities and workers.
·       Protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace.
·       Immediately stop attacks on immigrants, communities of color, indigenous and tribal people and lands and workers.
·       Ensure public funds and investments create good paying jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage and benefits and preserve workers’ rights, including the right to unionize.
·        Fund investments in our communities, people and environment to transition to a new clean and renewable energy economy that works for all, not an economy that feeds the machinery of war.
·        Protect our basic rights to a free press, protest and free speech.
March with us on April 29th as we come together to resist and march for our families, our communities and our planet.
An international women and water poster promoting the People's Climate Change March.


Organizers and participants alike see tomorrows march a part of a continuum of resistance—from the Earth Day/Science marches through mass protests set for May Day on Monday which will focus on worker’s rights, immigration justice, and economic inequality.  Together these important events reflect the new eagerness to connect the dots between issues and constituencies who have for too long been focused only on their narrow concerns.  The current emergency no long allows us the luxury of isolation or worse a scramble between the oppressed and exploited for table scraps sometimes turning against each other as if justice were a small pie with only so many pieces to go around.
Lost in the shuffle has been Arbor Day, now modestly celebrated the final Friday of April.


Before Earth Day, Arbor Day was the primary environmental celebration and semi-holiday in the United States.  And for a while it was a very big deal with tens of thousands of volunteers across the country planting and tending trees.  The results were breath taking. 
Arbor Day is often credited with re-foresting American cities and towns.  Old 19th Century photographs reveal that many were barren urban wastelands long denuded of foliage with buildings jammed together and coming right up to streets and crude sidewalks.  In Chicago, for instance, Daniel Burnham’s famous network of grand boulevards which radiated from the downtown core piercing the neighborhoods with trees was influenced by the Arbor Day movement.  Later the smaller boulevards—the local name for the strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street—were planted with trees, many by the CCC during the Great Depression.  Not only did all of those trees greatly improve the look of the city, they helped dramatically clean the air and provided much needed shade that helped cool city folk through sweltering summers.  Some sociologists even noted reduction in crime in neighborhoods with trees.
Tree planting festivals have been traced by to the Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra in 1805 where a local Priest organized a three day fiesta around planting hundreds of trees.  The custom spread to neighboring villages and towns.
In America Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by Democratic politician and later Secretary of Agriculture Julius Sterling Morton at Nebraska City, Nebraska.  That first year 10,000 trees were planted in and around the community.  Anyone who has ever visited Nebraska can attest to the crying need for trees on its vast High Plains.  Morton’s son, Joy Morton, the founder of the Morton Salt Company in Chicago, shared his father’s enthusiasm and founded the Morton Arboretum in suburban Lyle centered on the grounds of his estate.

An Arbor Day tree planting in 1887.  Looks to be on the grounds of a High Plains school.

The first observance drew national attention and soon other towns were emulating it.  By 1883 the American Forestry Association officially endorsed Arbor Day and named Birdseye Northrop of Connecticut as Chairman of a committee to make the day an official national celebration.  Birdseye, who liked to travel, also introduced the idea to Japan, Australia, Canada, and back to Europe.
In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States.  It became an annual tradition.  Eventually Congress designated the final Friday of April for the observance and several states make it a holiday. 
In the early years the Boy Scouts were heavily mobilized for tree planting and many troops continue that tradition.  As observed the CCC and the WPA in conjunction with National Forest Service were employed during the Depression.
Tree plantings continue, but the spotlight seldom shines on Arbor Day anymore.
But we can celebrate with poetry, naturally.  Poets probably have been versifying about trees since the first bard plucked his lyre.  Yet most of us can only recall Joyce Kilmer’s Trees.  With apologies to Kilmer who was killed in the trenches of World War I just as his hymn to trees was becoming famous, it is a pretty bad poem filled with mixed and conflicting metaphors.  We can do better.

A venerable live oak.

Alan Keitt is a poet with a special interest in the intersection of spirituality and ecology.  This poem and other work appeared in Gatherings: Seeking Ecopsychology, an on-line journal published in the early years of the current century.
The Live Oak Chronicles
You came a volunteer
when the fires no longer scourged the wiregrass
and chased old gopher turtle down his hole
You saw it didn’t you—
The felling of the longleaf pines for the field
a hundred years ago
You heard the lathering mule grunt
as the straight plow hung on the grandaddy rock
You felt it did’t you—
as they ringed your roots
with the rocky spawn of the field
You saw the rough stone pilings
and the raw cypress boards and battens
You saw it when the rusty roof was shiny new
and the Pecan trees were full of nuts
You heard it, didn’t you—
when the singing stopped and the prayers began
and all the laughter and the tears
You saw them leave
following mama's body
down the old mail road
for the last time
You saw us too—didn’t you
digging lighter stumps
to free the buried sunlight
of two centuries
in my stove
But at the center of your triune trunk
there came a moldering,
only a crack at first
One night, alone
with the abandoned house
and the fields fallow
your mossy beard
began to stream eastward
Was it a roiling front that came
or the summer's anvil cloud
You leaned with it
as a thousand times before
and just never came back up
Soon the last of your Siamese siblings
split off balance and wounded at the core
will lean its way one last time
And from the new light
above the ruin
of your descended majesty
the birds will come
as jewels for your shroud.

Alan Keitt

Palestinian Fig tree.

Naomi Shihab Nye, is an American, an Arab, a poet, a parent, and a woman of Texas.  She is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother and lived in Jerusalem, in St. Louis, and now with her own family in San Antonio, Texas.

My Father and the Fig Tree

For other fruits, my father was indifferent.
He’d point at the cherry trees and say,
“See those? I wish they were figs.”
In the evening he sat by my beds
weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.
They always involved a figtree.
Even when it didn’t fit, he'd stick it in.
Once Joha1 was walking down the road and he saw a fig tree.
Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.
Or, later when they caught and arrested him, his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.
“That’s not what I’m talking about!” he said,
“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth—
gift of Allah!—on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.
I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest,
 sweetest fig
in the world and putting it in my mouth.”
(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Years passed, we lived in many houses,
none had figtrees.
We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.
“Plant one!” my mother said.
but my father never did.
He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,
let the okra get too big.
“What a dreamer he is. Look how many things he starts and doesn’t finish.”

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,
My father, in Arabic, chanting a song
I’d never heard. “What’s that?”
He took me out back to the new yard.
There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,
a tree with the largest, fattest,
sweetest fig in the world.
“It’s a fig tree song!” he said,
plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,
emblems, assurance
of a world that was always his own.
1A trickster figure in Palestinian folktales
–Naomi Shihab Nye 
Weeping Willow by Claude Monet

Kathleen Lohr is a Los Angeles based poet and screenwriter whose work has appeared in local and regional literary magazines including The Moment, Red Dancefloor Press, For the Lives of Us, Dance of the Iguana, Blue Satellite, 50%, Poetry Motel, Shelia na Gig, and Chiron Review.
The Weeping Tree
When the wild mouths
of first love promise
the willow listens.
The earth tastes of silence
and grey swings creak
on butter-soft porches
phrases sway
then fall like feathers
and the willow listens.
While babies smell of jazz
their cries like small mice
in the jasmine silvered nights
and the lights surrounded by moths
whose wings flutter
uncertain on the edges of black
the willow listens.
Inside bricked rooms
when grampa lays
aside his coffee spoon
because the moon is made
of blue cheese
not green
the willow listens.
Sides are chosen
no matter which
it’s the spirit of the thing
and still the willow
with its branches bent
the tips brushing the grass
like loving brooms
listens, listens.
As time is laid aside
like pine cones
that roll on empty roofs
over evening shutters
or morning lace
when the children say
see, see the willow tree
the willow still listens
and weeps.
Kathleen Lohr
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

We will end with that counter cultural mystic Richard Brautigan who decades ago had this vision.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace

Richard Brautigan