First of all, we don’t believe in Earth Day.
Hmm, let’s rephrase that. What we mean to say is, we don’t believe in Earth Day because there shouldn’t be just one day dedicated to celebrating this beautiful orb we all have the privilege of living on. However, it is still nice that we all take a moment once a year to consciously remind ourselves of that fact, and of all of the things that the natural world bestows on us for our enjoyment—for free, too. One of the best parts of that natural world? Trees.
Hear us out. Sure, flowers are cool, and obviously we Coloradans have a thing for mountains. For our money, though, these leafy (typically) green giants are a ubiquitous reminder of life, growth, and the simultaneous fragility and strength of nature.
Trees are living measurements of our progress as humans. They’re landmarks and symbols of our natural roots, often in places where we’ve replaced the natural world with industry and modern conveniences. When forests are plowed down in favor of more transient, self-serving interests, we weep. And in America especially, trees tell part of our story as a nation. So, in light of Earth Day this coming Sunday, and courtesy of the amazing resource American Heritage Trees (a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to understanding the lush history of America’s trees), here are the stories of three species and what they mean to our country. When you’re done reading, you might just want to go give them a hug.
The Red Maple
The red maple is North America’s most abundant tree, and is particularly prevalent in the northeastern United States. It’s not quite the syrup manufacturer that its sibling the sugar maple is, but it sure is beautiful. When you think of a brisk New England autumn day coupled with a landscape of Bob Ross-esque hues of golden reds, you’re probably thinking of the red maple. According to American Heritage Trees, the red maple deserves some of the credit for Henry David Thoreau’s famous book, Walden, as it is the tree species that rings Walden Pond. There’s no doubt that during his two or so years contemplating the meaning of existence, Thoreau took great solace in the vibrant colors of the famous red maple.
The Bur Oak
If you haven’t taken the time to properly read Mark Twain, you must—the guy was absolutely hilarious. At the very least, you’ve certainly read (or are at least familiar with) Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; both are counted among America’s classic literary characters thanks to their reflection of the American spirit. These stories of adventuring tweens were largely inspired by Twain’s childhood in Missouri, where he spent time exploring nearby caves and climbing trees—or, more specifically, bur oak trees. Countless Midwestern children have had similar experiences climbing bur oaks to feed their imaginary adventures—and countless adults have reflected fondly on those memories.
The Tulip Tree
In a blog post almost entirely about the conservation of trees, it seems a bit morose to think about the value of dead trees, but the reality is that their use in early American industry is a major reason they’re so cemented in our collective ethos. Wood was the greatest resource available to help early settlers build a life here, and one of the very best types for doing so was the tulip tree. It’s the tallest of the North American hardwoods, and according to the Arbor Day Foundation, a popular source for everything from furniture to musical instruments to veneers. And, because of its relatively light weight and buoyancy, it was also a common source for canoes—meaning the tulip tree was one of the most valuable tools in propelling adventurers like Daniel Boone west. Thankfully, we don’t have to decimate tulip trees on an industrial scale anymore to supply REI with canoes, but this Earth Day, consider pouring one out for the humble tulip tree—for helping to get people out to Colorado in the first place. (You might consider planting one, too.)