A Reluctant Environmentalist

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Well, not entirely reluctant. I “submit” my pre-formed letters protesting delisting this, fracking that. I contribute almost all the funds I allocate to “charity” to help hungry downtrodden people and protect global lands and seas from pollution, degradation, and ruin. Once in a while I even phone up the president of the United States, my senators and congresswoman. But I’m not usually an in-your-face environmentalist.

Except for helping trees. Somewhere in my genetic background a forest-dweller named trees as our people. Whether the huge spreading live oaks of South Carolina or Minnesota’s pointed spruce and feathery white pines, pin oaks that whisper in their winter leaves and maples that turn their dresses silver in the wind–all are my family. I’m not wild about the ash the city of Saint Paul planted along our boulevard, but I tend it like a cousin, water and fertilize it, and now that its tribe are troubled with ash borers, I have it treated.

When we first moved into this typical city house, built in 1912 on a lot longer than it is wide, I almost immediately began planting trees because it was hot in the summer as we faced south and bare of green in winter. I remembered the cooling effect of Carolina live oaks shading front porches. No live oaks in Minnesota so we dug holes for a Russian olive and a honey locust. This brought up to three the number of trees in our front yard until the Arbor Day Foundation donated a spruce seedling, making four.

Filling the larger back yard was fun. My in-laws sent home with us from Tennessee three maple seedlings dug up from their rambling domain. These all went into the back yard along with more spruce seedlings, a white pine, and a flowering crab. Sometimes standing across the street and looking at our house and lot, I have to laugh: we sport a mini forest between two savannahs on either side. The Minnesota natives who bracket us want little to do with trees. Their lawns are bare of anything but summer flowers. Probably they have in their souls the “prairie effect,” just as I do the forest.

On behalf of our neighborhood trees, I can become rather pushy. “Water your trees in the drought,” say the handouts I stuff in neighbors’ mailboxes. “Put the hose a bit away from the trunk and let a slow flow go for an hour or so.” Since we moved into this neighborhood, there have been an inordinate number of dry years. This past season, we’re not only had a dry summer, but a long long dry fall. Already I’m plotting my strategy, infused with Paul Douglas’s support. He’s the StarTribune’s weatherman, and has already urged “Water your trees,” in many September and October weather forecasts. “Especially evergreens.”

One thing I discovered as a tree lover and preserver (this also goes for perennial plants and bushes): mulching in all seasons helps preserve moisture and prevent the worst that winter can do to roots. This “worst” isn’t just deep cold, it’s the freezing and thawing that happens on either side of deep. Mulching moderates soil temperature, and over the years, the leaf mulch I apply (having a passion for raking and mounding leaves), has helped keep the soil from becoming flinty. We have naturally beautiful heavy loam in our neighborhood as part of an ancient oak forest. (Think acorns decaying into richness decade after decade.) But I want to add my bit.

Consider yourself told: the reluctant environmentalist has shed her skin and turned instructor. Mind your trees, my people. Trees are the protectors of our world.

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