"Trees all gone," my two-year-old son said as soon as we walked out of the door of his daycare this afternoon. He summed it up perfectly. Last week, the in a matter of days. I know I wasn't the only one who felt shocked and a little lost as I drove down Rte. 80 and realized how far I could see without the trees there. And today, the trees between Great Hill Road and the are gone. All the way to the church parking lot. It hurts my heart.
I'm not likely to admit it often, but I'm a "tree hugger." I really can't deny it–I teach botany and have long hair to my waist, for goodness sake. Though I don't think I've ever actually hugged a tree, I certainly have planted them and I do appreciate a beautiful tree. I may have even considered making a big poster of the Lorax and hanging it up on one of the marked trees in front of the , but I'm no artist.
I knew that the Rte. 80 widening project would start soon and I was even a bit excited about it. After four years of living on Great Hill Road and not being able to take a left-hand turn into my road, I was excited to hear that it would be realigned as part of the project. I envision the day that I won't have to drive up, wait at the light and then turn around at the firehouse just so I can go home. So while I'm thrilled about that part of it, I can't help but miss the trees.
Why do I feel so connected to those trees? Why are so many people I talk to sad about all those trees being cut down? Nature tends to have a very calming effect on people and having the trees in my hometown taken away so quickly feels like a loss. The trees were always in the background: whether it was getting some ice cream at , playing Fun Ball at Wall Field or waiting in the car at the . The trees along Rte. 80 were a part of the landscape of my childhood, and I can't help but mourn now that they're gone.
Admittedly, I never climbed any of those trees or played in them, but I have learned the value of a tree to a child. Building forts, finding big sticks, climbing, sitting in the shade, tagging a tree as base for a backyard game of kickball, hiding behind them or leaning on them while counting to 100 before beginning to "seek." What happens when the trees are gone?
A few years ago I picked up a copy of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, which details why having experiences in nature is important to the health of children. The bottom line is that it's important for children to get outside and have the freedom to play in nature, and he even goes so far to suggest that children can develop Nature Deficit Disorder, which is characterized by lack of respect for the environment, hyperactivity, obesity and lower grades in school.
Now, it's important to note that this is not a recognized medical disorder, but it can't hurt for children to get outside and get more exercise and fresh air. It's easy to blame "kids these days," , but the truth is that children today don't have access to the natural world in the way that previous generations did. Adults have organized activities within strict time frames, put up fences and cut down trees. We need to recognize the role that we as adults play in keeping our children in the air conditioning and behind the TV.
In my training as an environmental educator, I learned that one of the most powerful things we can do is allow children to develop a love for nature. If children grow into adults who love to spend time outdoors and appreciate the natural environment, then they will be more likely to want to protect our air, water and soil. And trees, of course. It's my job as parent who cares about the environment to allow and help my children to spend time in nature.
But back to this afternoon. In the next breath after "Trees all gone," my son shouted, "Excavator! Excavator!" He's a two-year-old boy after all, and the big equipment is exciting. But for that moment, I felt a mixture of accomplishment along with sadness, since my son recognized that there were trees there in the first place. I want him to appreciate and protect nature, and at least in some way I'm accomplishing my goal.
When we got home this afternoon, we went outside. Even though it was hot and humid, even though I was formulating this post in my head and wanting to get my fingers onto the keyboard, we went outside. We started by picking some peonies that the rain had knocked down. Isn't that always how it works? The pretty big flowers bloom and then a rain storm knocks them down. We watered our tomato plants and noted all the weeds in our garden, though admittedly didn't pull them.
We checked on our growing apple trees and our newly planted cherry, peach and pear trees. I'm not so sure the pear tree will make it. Then we went to the berry patch, talked about how the tiny green raspberries are yucky but how when they turn red they'll be yummy. We picked buttercups and asked "Do you like butter?" We kicked and threw a ball back and forth and then my son picked up a big stick and used it to club some of the tall hay. We had a fun and sweaty afternoon and I felt that I'm doing my part, day by day, to make up to my son for the trees that have been cut down.