There are a few things a person can do that will make the world a better place. For example teaching a child, giving to charity, writing advice articles, and planting trees are among the things that are just good to do.
The last item is unique because planting a tree doesn’t really need another person to appreciate it. All the others are rather social functions, but a tree planting can be a sole purpose unto itself. Like all my posts I will put in a pet peeve, I love to see fruit trees being planted, but I’m not too fond of ornamental trees (I abhor flowering cherries).
About 2100 years ago the Roman playwright Statius Caecilius mentioned that “He plants trees to benefit another generation.” In our time of instant gratification, planting a tree is a cry for patience. A young tree when originally planted can be unbelievably fragile, a moments inattention with a lawn mower or a late winter freeze and the tree is just a dead stick in the ground. Generally though, as time goes by it grows and eventually it develops strength and majesty. While an apple tree might only live 80 years, a fig tree can live much longer. Of course trees grow best when they are tended, pruned, fertilized, and protected from disease, but sometimes if the conditions are right a tree might live healthily seemingly without much care. The local park is orderly, the trees all regularly spaced and nicely tended. I prefer the true forest lands, (I grew up in the Oregon coast) where nature takes its course. An old oak grove or a thicket of alder might seem to be doing fine on its own. Take the time to look closely and you’ll notice a hundred years ago a Woodruff or a Dunkleberger spent a few hours putting in his orchard, During his lifetime he enjoyed the winter apples and perhaps wine made from plumes. Today you can still see the results. Deer, bear, any number of birds and insects thriving in a pasture long gone to weeds and seeds.
Then there is wood, an essential building material used in virtually all construction. In a time of disappearing oil reserves and strip mining, trees are a renewable resource. Cut one down, use the wood, there is no loss because another tree can be planted, albeit it will benefit another generation. Ecologically, trees are famous for their ability to create oxygen, and absorb pollutants. Sometimes they inspire poets, philosophers and hack writers too. Whether it is a landscaping element, windbreak, or hedge to mark property lines, it serves its purpose only if someone takes the time to plant or re-plant it.
During the next year, you might be fortunate enough to help a child to learn the alphabet or some math procedures. Certainly you can rejoice if you have enough to give to a charity. Take the time to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, perhaps post something encouraging on the Internet. These things can earn you a smile, a “thank you” or with luck a challenging discussion. Along with these pleasures I hope you’ll get the chance to plant a tree, it earns little more than the joy of accomplishment, but in its own way it changes the world.