Last summer, on a day when the sky was a perfect, azure blue, my 3½-year- old daughter, Sylvia, stopped playing in her sandbox and came over to sit in the patio chair beside me. She sunk her body into the seat and leaned her head as far back as the recliner would let her. Exhaling with a giant sigh, reflecting her happiness and welcome break from her time spent building castles and small villages, she said, "Momma, put your head back and look up at the beautiful trees in the blue sky."
It was the first time she said something that seemed so adult because it was so reflective and observant. I immediately complied. And the rush of a typical day, along with its deadlines and constant interruptions, melted away. We watched the soft, fluffy clouds roll by and the wind flutter every leaf on every tree, commenting on the sound and the way the light filtered through the trunks as it descended in the sky. But mostly we just observed. And, in that moment, we made a mother-daughter memory.
Many of my family's memories tend to center around nature. On a recent visit to the beach, Sylvie and I made wind chimes out of seashells. After each addition, she'd pick up the chime to hear the tink, tink, tink of the shells as the wind caught them, listening intently and then saying we "should add just one more." We have spent time during every season in local parks, building snowmen and sledding in winter, observing new plant buds in spring, smelling sweet flowers in summer and collecting the prettiest leaves in the fall. We tend to have the most fun in our own backyard. I think it's because we spend the most time there working the soil and observing. We've planted many vegetable, fruit and flower seeds in our garden together - digging holes, dropping seeds in, covering them up and giving the soil extra little pats along with water to get it moist. We have sat under many a tree and reflected on birds flying to and from their nests, watched bunnies hopping around the garden and just enjoyed the shade. But this will be the first year we plant a tree together.
We have a spot in need of a new tree. The old one - a birch - died, and the spot is barren without its wispy branches and leaves. I told Sylvie she could help pick out the new tree and plant it with me. Since that moment, she has been talking it up - she asks me about different tree varieties and their leaf shades and shapes. It's been not only fun but educational conversation. To commemorate the experience, we've decided to plant the tree on April 29, Arbor Day.
Trees and their many benefits have been celebrated nationally on the last Friday in April since 1970, but the roots of Arbor Day go all the way back to 1872. It was Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska journalist and politician (President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of Agriculture), who inspired a day to commemorate tree planting because he felt the landscape and economy of his home state could benefit from the wide-scale planting of trees for shade and wind breaks. More than 1 million trees were planted on Nebraska's first Arbor Day, which was considered an enormous success.
The tradition of celebrating trees has continued ever since, particularly since trees have so many benefits that are becoming more well known, including providing oxygen, cooling homes, absorbing harmful pollutants and particles from the air, shielding wind and noise, reducing stress, and providing homes and food for wildlife.
If you can't plant a tree this Arbor Day, take some time to sit on your favorite park bench or on your backyard patio to admire the trees around you and reflect on not only what they do for you, but also the special memories you've had involving those trees. Maybe you used to pretend you were an Olympic gymnast as you swung on low branches. Maybe you built a house in a backyard tree and it was your secret hideaway where only kids were allowed. Maybe you just liked to read books in the shade during lunchtime under your favorite English oak. I know I'll never forget the memories I'm creating with my daughter involving trees, including the new moment we'll be sharing April 29. I think a quote from my daughter referencing one of her favorite books "A Tree is Nice" by "Janice May Udry" sums it up best: "Trees are pretty. They fill up the sky. A tree is good to have around. A tree is nice."
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