Steadfast: In Praise of Trees
In her magnificent 1918 novel, My Ántonia, the writer Willa Cather re-created and paid homage to a vanished world of America’s Great Plains — a world of hardy homesteaders and tiny, solitary towns tenaciously clinging to the land amid vast and still-wild spaces. Among the countless memorable, vivid passages in the book, however, one in particular stands out as a near-perfect distillation of the almost unbearable solitude of the lives lived out on the great, rolling Nebraska prairie.
“Trees were so rare in that country,” the book’s narrator recalls, “and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons. It must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape that made detail so precious.”
There is, after all, something sociable about trees — whether we encounter them singly, in small groves, or in enormous forests. Trees offer shade on hot days. They lock away carbon dioxide. They control runoff from heavy rains, keeping streams and rivers free of choking silt and mud. They act as windbreaks, minimizing snowdrifts in the winter and reducing the erosion of topsoil year-round. They keep city streets cool, and help muffle noise pollution. Without trees, we’d be screwed.
Here, on Arbor Day, we tip our hat to trees — steadfast companions on our small planet.