I was born and raised in Brooklyn, so trees were never a big part of my environment as a youngster. I guess my interest in trees began some years after my move to Western New York in 1973, when my wife and I became birdwatchers.
One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I became hooked on trees – their beauty, their variety and their value to our entire world, as well as their importance for bird life.
After my retirement as a pastor in Buffalo and then my move to Clarence Center in 2008, I came to realize that my main hobbies – reading history and collecting stamps – while enjoyable, had one thing in common: sitting. And sitting can be dangerous for any retiree. Walking 10,000 steps a day became a serious goal.
But because my new home had some elbow room – meaning an extra lot as well as space behind our small home – my interest in trees took root or blossomed; take your pick of either pun.
At first it was getting “free” trees from the Arbor Day Foundation, which is a benefit of paid membership, and buying a couple of apple trees.
My new hobby, I found, got me off the couch, gave me something to look forward to as my little trees began to grow, and gave me a real sense of accomplishment because I had never grown anything more than a few flowers and vegetables.
After the seven years I have been in Clarence Center, I now have 65 or 70 new plants and shrubs, some of which are now 15 to 20 feet high. Along with seven kinds of apple trees, four kinds of maples and three kinds of oaks, my yard now has trees that I didn’t even know existed a decade ago, including serviceberry, black tupelo, bald cypress, river birch, dawn redwood and Sitka spruce.
It is a joy to look out on a winter morning and see my Washington hawthorn filled with bright red berries, waiting for the birds to devour them when the snow covers their other sources of food, or to see how quickly the birds took to eating the black berries on my viburnum.
Of course, as with any other hobby, there are setbacks: like when a young blue spruce fades and dies, or when my neighborhood squirrels get to my apples before I do. But that’s part of life.
Beyond the physical exercise of planting, pruning, watering (and being outdoors talking to them to encourage their growth) and the pure enjoyment of watching them go through their yearly cycle, there is one more way the trees enrich my life: through the oxygen they produce and the carbon dioxide they absorb.
I try to care for God’s gift of planet Earth as best I can. I recycle, compost garbage, conserve water and am aware of my carbon footprint. But in a world where rainforests are being destroyed and forest fires are increasing, planting trees is my one small effort for humankind, for my grandchildren and for future generations. It is not enough to curse the darkness.
I am reminded that when Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he were told the world was going to end tomorrow, he said, “I’d plant an apple tree.” Like Luther, I am an optimist!