Arbor Day an day of activities

Published 6:47 pm Sunday, May 1, 2011

Third Ward Dowagiac Councilman Dr. Charles Burling recalls Edwin Darr (the plaque and dogwood tree in the background are a memorial to him) addressing Dowagiac’s fifth annual Arbor Day observance Saturday at Williams A-1 Expert Tree Service on M-51 South. Boy Scout Matt Lyle tightly grips the American flag, which “wanted to fly away,” while Eagle Scout Zacharias Guernsey stands by.

Third Ward Dowagiac Councilman Dr. Charles Burling recalls Edwin Darr (the plaque and dogwood tree in the background are a memorial to him) addressing Dowagiac’s fifth annual Arbor Day observance Saturday at Williams A-1 Expert Tree Service on M-51 South. Boy Scout Matt Lyle tightly grips the American flag, which “wanted to fly away,” while Eagle Scout Zacharias Guernsey stands by.

Brisk winds tested Boy Scout Matt Lyle’s strength as it pried at the American flag and collapsed the tent Saturday at Tree City USA Dowagiac’s fifth annual Arbor Day celebration at Williams’ A-1 Expert Tree Service on M-51 South in Pokagon Township.

Moved from Friday after school to a full afternoon of activities, including a chili contest, tree planting and transplanting with huge spades and trimming by nimble acrobatic tree climbers, Arbor Day was planned as a tribute to founder Edwin Darr by a committee of volunteers headed by Dan Williams, Dave Gordy and their secretary, Kimberly Pomeroy.

Edwin Darr “is one of the main reasons we’re celebrating Arbor Day today,” Williams said.

“He had a lot of influence on a lot of people’s lives — especially mine. He introduced the Arbor Day celebration to me about three years ago. Being busy, as we all are, when he said, ‘Dan, I need you to help me with this,’ I said I didn’t have time. But really, we do have time if we make time. When I found Ed was sick, he really influenced me to take over the Arbor Day celebration with the city.”

Third Ward Councilman Dr. Charles Burling recalled Mr. Darr as a “man of passion I knew all of my spiritual life” at St. John’s Lutheran Church. “Ed did everything with passion.”

Ed’s 59-year marriage to Elinor “set the gold standard for marital relationships. He was a husband extraordinaire. In the church he was very gifted, and yet he was especially passionate about the way we worked as a congregation — especially evangelism and stewardship. Many a budget meeting I heard him lament about the fact we were not allowing enough money for evangelism. He was right then and he’s right now.

“As competition for that one hour on Sunday morning gets greater and greater, you can see where Ed’s wisdom shows through,” Burling said.

“Ed was passionate about the outdoors. That was pretty obvious through his involvement in the Conservation Club, but like Dan said, he had a true love for nature and truly understood the importance of trees.”

Burling said, “It’s really fitting that we dedicate a dogwood tree to Ed. Folklore has it that Christ was crucified on a dogwood. From that moment on, the tree never grew in stature, like an oak or maple, it stayed short and small. The blossom that comes out in spring is white for purity. The center of that blossom is symbolic of life. The variant that shows up in fall resembles the drop of blood Christ shed for us. The tree really is a tree of mercy and love, very symbolic of the man we honor today.”

Williams’ tree service, founded in August 1989 at Indian Lake, is now in its third location after surviving a 2004 fire and last spring’s tornado. It has a secondary location near Elkhart, Ind., and has grown from Dan in his ’73 Chevy pickup to a fleet of 22 trucks based at the former Waste Management facility, 11 fulltime employees and three part-timers and a growing mulch business.

Guest speaker arborist Tom Conklin of Walnut Hill Farm near Lawrence in Van Buren County said we’ve “drifted away from what was a respected holiday. Too much soccer, too much television, too much of things other than what really count in this world.”

He noted that “arbor” means trees, but avoided calling his remarks a “history of Arbor Day,” because “to me, thinking about trees is a wonderful thing, not the subject of some classroom text.

“The idea of a day for the trees, a day filled with the planning of all kinds of trees — forest trees, fruiting trees, flowering trees, tall trees and small trees. Trees of all kinds and for all uses. Think for a moment of what our country would be without trees, a desert perhaps, or land with only brambles and weeds or, worse, a world paved over in concrete and asphalt.

“Think of yourself as a pioneer back during a time when it took a full half day to travel between South Haven and Bangor,” the former Boy Scout urges. “Imagine yourself as a young person leaving a safe home in upstate New York, traveling on foot and by wagon, river boat and the first primitive rail lines to a far western state, Nebraska, where there were few trees of any kind. A time on national violence on the verge of civil war between the states.”

J. Sterling Morton, with his young bride, made that perilous journey from upstate New York to Nebraska.

Morton dreamed of growing trees where there were none. He was a curious man who had been kicked out of school twice for misbehaving.

Within a few years, Morton had planted hundreds of trees on his land and became a public spokesman for Nebraska tree conservation.

On April 10, 1872, the people of Nebraska answered the call of Morton’s idea of Arbor Day and planted 1 million trees.

Two years later, in 1874, another day of tree planting repeated.

The idea spread to other states. It was agreed that Arbor Day would take place in the future on April 22, which was Morton’s birthday.

As the idea spread from across the nation to across the world, Arbor Days were scheduled to match the time of year best suited to planting trees.

In 1877, Bishop Northrop, a Connecticut minister and educator, successfully put forth the idea that school children should be involved in Arbor Day.

Children were let out of school to plant trees on Arbor Day.

In 1886, Connecticut established April 28 as that state’s Arbor Day to honor Pastor Northrop’s birthday.

“I recall as a child,” Conklin said, “I helped plant trees on Arbor Day in Illinois.”

Arbor Day became held annually on the last Friday in April in 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed it into law.

The Arbor Day Foundation began working with the U.S. Forestry Service in 1990 to help replant national forests that needed reforestation.

Since then, Conklin said, almost 13 million trees have been planed. The foundation helped spread tree planting and education.

But “we have not always taken good care of our trees,” he said. “Sometimes there is a need to harvest the trees for lumber as when on Oct. 8, 1871 — windy like this, and unseasonably warm — Chicago burned down and, the same day, Holland, Mich., also burned down. To provide lumber to rebuild after those calamities, the giant white pines of Michigan were cut down and shipped to Chicago.”

“Through neglect, ignorance or indifference,” Conklin continued, “killer diseases and insects have ravaged our trees. Gone are the spreading chestnut trees to blight, oak trees to wilt, elm trees to insects and fungal infections, ash to borers. Wildfires threaten our Western forests.”

Conklin’s partner, Joyce Latta, commented, “A lot is made of the act of planting a tree, but as a landscape architect … you need to consider some other things, like the environmental benefits you want. Maybe you want shade or to block wind like this. Evergreens are good for that. Soil conditions make a big difference in the way a plant survives and thrives. If you have sandy dry soil or heavy wet clay, that makes a difference in the type of tree you choose. Also, some areas are wet intermittently in the spring and dry the rest of the year. Location, whether it’s in sun or shade. Flowering trees like crab apple need full sun to bloom well. The number-one thing I run into is people plant a small tree four feet from the house, not realizing that 20 years later that tree may be 40 feet high and 40 feet wide and you have to have it relocated or removed. Also watch that your trees don’t grow through power lines or put them too close to driveways or walkways.

“Don’t plant too deep. Care for it. Watering’s important, but to have a tree perform well, you have to water it when we have droughts, which occur in our area in early spring and late fall. You’ve got to watch it as soon as it comes out of dormancy and all the way to Thanksgiving or whenever the ground freezes. Mulch the tree, which helps keep in moisture and keeps mowers and weed whips away from the trunk, which can do major damage. You need about an inch of water a week through rain or supplemental water. Use a rain gauge to figure out how much we’re getting locally. Fertilize it after an inexpensive soil test. Michigan has a phosphorous ban in a lot of counties, so you don’t want to put anything unnecessary that will mess up our water. And look at the tree for insects and diseases and enjoy it. Pruning, make sure it’s clean cuts, not torn. You’ve done the hard work of digging a hole, so follow up with aftercare.”