The following article is for the Ripples from the Dunes series, by Kennedy Zittel, Assistant Naturalist for Woodland Dunes Nature Center.
Another summer spent out in the swales planting trees to help combat the devastation that the emerald ash borer is causing in many local forests. To be honest, I thought that last summer was going to be my last year planting trees. I didn’t expect to get to stay here, much less have a permanent job here too.
I truly am grateful every day that I am out on our preserve for the wonderful opportunity of getting to help maintain it. Although, as I am once again midcalf deep in mud, with mosquitoes swarming my face and biting my arms, and with slimy slugs crawling all over me, I wonder if I hit my head a bit too hard on a branch at some point. Yet, as I look out at the caged trees that we have planted, I can’t help but smile. It really is such a rewarding thing getting to see all of those little trees go in the ground and know that someday they will be big enough that I can’t even wrap my arms around them. Those trees that we planted will offer homes to countless birds, insects, and mammals alike. They will offer canopy cover for other shade loving plants to grow and offer climbing plants a route up towards the sky.
Last summer we planted 2,500 trees and this summer we have another 2,500 more to plant. As I sit here and write this we have about 1,500 of the second round of trees in the ground already, and hopefully by the time you read this article it will be many more! I would have helped plant 5,000 trees by the end of this summer that will one day grow into those giant trees that we all look at in awe. How wonderful is that? 5,000 trees that will be home for so many creatures and help diversify our forests to maintain the precious ecosystem that Woodland Dunes has. Sure, I definitely cannot say that I appreciate having mosquitoes swarm at my face nor enjoy getting swampy swale water pouring into my boot as I misstep into the swale. But looking at all of those little caged trees really does remind me of why I choose to do what I do each day.
One of my favorite quotes is “The one who plants trees, knowing he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life” – Rabindranath Tagore. I find that to be a quote that I try to live by not only literally as I plant those trees but also just in general too. I probably won’t be able to see those trees grow to become giants, but other people will. Even just one tree put into the ground is a tree that future generations from now can see, and that is what keeps me going each day. We have a very fulfilling job here at Woodland Dunes, though we may not all know the full meaning of life just yet (I will let you all know when I have figured it out though), we all strive to help preserve this wonderful place for future generations to enjoy. I hope to someday come back out into the areas that we planted in and see those trees and know that I helped put some of them in the ground that they now stand watch over. Until then, back to digging I go.