Arbor Day is an opportunity to create new ceremonies.
To me there is nothing quite like wandering a trail in the woods or daydreaming under a majestic stand of leafy trees – those that cast a cooling shadow where I am protected from but still able to enjoy the sun’s rays. There is nothing like the sense of peace and relaxation that I feel when in the presence of these wonders of nature as I listen to the rustle of leaves in the breeze. There was a time, when I was less fragile and more agile, when climbing trees was so much fun. Cradled in their branches it felt almost possible to reach out and touch the clouds.
Trees really are amazing and contribute to our environment and to our way of life. They supply us with shade to assist us in conserving energy in the summer by keeping our homes cooler. Trees generate oxygen, improve air quality by cleansing our air of pollutants, support creatures of the forest, supply materials to build many things and create multiple products, offer wind protection, conserve water, and help to reduce noise pollution. Even dead trees rot and provide nutrients for and preserve soil.
The oldest living trees in the world include a 9,550-year-old spruce called ‘Old Tjikko’ in western Sweden, a 4,768-year-old Bristlecone Pine named ‘Methuselah’ in California’s White Mountains, and a second Bristlecone Pine in the same mountains aged 5,062 years old. There is a 1,075-year-old Bosnian pine named ‘Adonis” after the Greek god of beauty, youth and desire, growing in Greece. The age of these trees is remarkable especially given the harsh conditions where they grow.
ROOTS OF ARBOR DAY
April not only brings spring showers in many parts of North America but also the celebration of trees known as Arbor Day. The word ‘arbor’ is Latin for tree.
Originally from well-treed Detroit, Julius Stirling Morton and his wife Caroline became pioneers in Nebraska Territory in 1854, then a barren and treeless prairie. His position as writer and editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper allowed him to share his innate enthusiasm for trees, including their planting and care. Morton’s idea and resolution to set aside a day for tree planting by community members led to the Board of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture declaring April 10, 1872 as ARBOR DAY. Prizes were offered as incentives for communities and organizations that planted the most trees. The result was that Nebraskans planted about one million trees on that first Arbor Day. Ten years later, to honor Morton, the Father of Arbor Day, Nebraska declared Arbor Day a legal holiday and changed the date to Morton’s birthday, April 22.
AROUND THE WORLD
Today, not only is Arbor Day an American observance but variations of it are celebrated around the world. Though the dates differ based on planting seasons and climate, tree planting festivals have taken root worldwide. It may be called Tree Holiday, Tree Festival or Arbor Week. Japan celebrates Greening Week, India has the National Festival of Tree Planting, in Korea it is called Tree Loving Week and communities in Israel call it New Year’s Day of the Trees.
Canada initially established Arbor Day in the province of Ontario in the late 1800s. National Forest Week is the last full week in September and National Tree Day (Maple Leaf Day) falls on the Wednesday of that week. Ontario celebrates Arbor Week from the last Friday in April to the first Sunday in May.
In fact, the date of the first Earth Day in the United States, April 22, 1970, stemmed from Arbor Day. Ten years later Canada held its inaugural Earth Day on September 11, 1980, in Kingston, Ontario. Earth Day Week was officially opened with a ceremonial tree planting. It is still a common practice to plant new trees on Earth Day.
PLANTING A TREE
I have enjoyed trees, watered trees, arranged for mulch for trees, and raked leaves that have fallen from trees, but I realized that I have never created the opportunity to plant a tree. Perhaps it is because I have lived where trees are so abundant. Possibly I have taken trees for granted – just not my responsibility and I recognize my lack of expertise when it comes to planting trees. In truth I have always been averse to blisters that could result from the use of a shovel. Then I asked myself what I can do to contribute to tree life in my own community.
After a bit of online research, I discovered that our city will supply and even plant trees on or near private property upon request. Wow! Needless to say I sent off an email of inquiry. There is much to consider, I am told. Where and when the tree will be planted, the size it will grow to, the type of tree that will do best where it is planted and even whether it will interfere with overhead wires or underground pipes. There are many questions to discover answers to, but luckily there will be a consultant to guide the decision making. Of course, once a proposal is compiled, as the property is owned by a corporation, there must be Board discussion and a decision made. The end result, I hope, will be at least a few more trees planted to do what trees do - not the least of which is beautify the home where we live.
TREES IN CEREMONY
As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, ceremony is always on my mind. It is my job to suggest and create ritual that will give meaning to the people involved in whatever situation those people may wish to acknowledge. A unity tree planting ceremony is often used symbolically in the joining of families and individuals. The planting of a tree can memorialize a deceased family member or a group of trees can create a peaceful tribute remembrance garden. Some families plant a tree to commemorate the birth of each child. Trees symbolize so many things – peace, promises, putting down roots, endurance of love, longevity of memory, new life, strength, growth and beauty. Trees can be used to honor relationships and families.
There are ceremonial traditions involving trees in different parts of the world. In Holland, as a symbol of fertility and luck, a pine tree is planted outside the newlyweds' home. When a little girl is born in Germany, several trees are planted in her honor. Czech wedding tradition has the bride's friends planting and decorating a tree in her yard because, according to legend, the bride will live as long as the tree. Bermudian custom is for newlyweds to plant a cedar tree as a symbol of their growing life together. The wedding cake is often bejeweled with little cedar saplings that the couple is encouraged to plant somewhere special on the island to represent their love.
Types of trees can emphasize meanings, such as an olive tree to represent peace. Sweat lodge ceremonies include a tea made from the leaves of cedar trees, helping us to be mindful of the healing taking place. Soil and water speak to nurturing and nourishment when planting and caring for a tree.
The following excerpt from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres is a favorite of mine to use in wedding ceremonies. The reading uses a tree analogy to express the love between two people.
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”
Appropriate words are woven around the action of planting and watering the tree – such is the creation of meaningful ceremony.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The most obvious thing anyone can do on Arbor Day is plant a tree. The fruits of your labor will be around possibly longer than any of us! Maybe you are not inclined to be a “Johnny Appleseed” – he who the legend says planted apple seeds that grew into trees everywhere he went. Don’t despair; you can still celebrate Arbor Day. Try some of these ideas:
- Take a walk in a forest
- Visit your local botanical garden and make a donation
- Visit a library and do some tree research
- Learn how to care for trees
- Volunteer with a tree planting organization
- Clean up an outdoors space
- Organize an oldest or largest or highest tree hunt in your community
- Hug a tree or three
- Take a selfie with your favorite tree
- Check out these websites:
- Create your own tree-loving, tree-hugging ritual
Remember the profound significance trees have in our lives and consider using trees in ceremony as you move through your life. Plant a tree as a tribute to a loved one, plant a tree to celebrate a birth, plant a tree as a symbol of your love or plant a tree for future generations to enjoy.
There is a wee bit of wisdom found in an old Peanuts comic strip from the 1960s where Lucy says “The planting of a tree shows faith in the future.” Faith in the future – optimism and hope in trees, I can get behind that sentiment!
The Celebrant Foundation & Institute (CF&I) is the nation’s preeminent online educational institute that teaches and certifies people as modern day ritual and ceremony professionals called Life-Cycle Celebrants®. Founded in 2001, the educational nonprofit organization headquartered in Montclair, NJ, is a member of the International Federation of Celebrants. To date, the CF&I has graduated nearly 900 Life-Cycle Celebrants® who preside over 20,000 ceremonies each year throughout North America, Asia and Europe. To learn more about the CF&I, visit www.celebrantinstitute.org.
Watch January 2017's Weddings with Zita (Zita Christian) with featured guest Elisa Chase, CF&I Academic Manager, discussing Ceremony, Rituals and the Celebrant Foundation & Institute.