Everybody has a different tipping point where enough is finally enough and action is called for. This was the case with Joe Arbor. For many years, Joe Arbor walked the river’s edge paying attention to what the Earth was telling him from the signals that washed ashore. Yes, this is a nonverbal language, but the Earth is eloquent in this way. On this particular day, Joe Arbor noticed that there was a lot of wood everywhere and while it was picturesque…it was also disturbing. Joe Arbor realized that all the wood he was seeing represented trees in the past tense.
Joe Arbor knew of other places where the Earth via the river had left a record of lost trees particularly at the Falls of the Ohio. In the hot bleaching sun the various logs and limbs piled on top of one another reminded him of bones. Joe Arbor would walk among these elephant’s graveyards of trees and felt ill at ease. These trees represented a huge loss in terms of the free services they provided. Here was food and shelter for a multitude of other life forms. Here was the air we breathe and the cooling shade of summer and potential warmth in winter. Here was lost inspiration! Since Joe Arbor also made his home next to the river, he also knew that tree roots also held the riverbank in place. Over the past several years it had not escaped Joe Arbor’s notice that at this location, it rained more and harder and trees were being swept away. Joe Arbor was no scientist or genius, but could recognize that life seemed out of balance and it worried him. What could be done? Joe Arbor went home and decided to sleep on the question.
Joe Arbor makes his home at the base of an old willow tree. It took several nights of sleeping on the question before the beginnings of an answer started to form in his mind. When the solution came to him, Joe Arbor decided that he needed some help or company and he called his good friend Pip. Pip is short for Pipistrel which is a name given to several species of bats. One fine morning, the pair got up early and gathered some tools and provisions together and ventured forth to the river’s edge. If the Earth was losing her balance due to tree loss…it made sense to Joe Arbor that getting involved with planting and saving more trees could be a good thing to do.
Joe Arbor decided he wanted to try to do something to help the Eastern Cottonwoods that grew along the Falls of the Ohio. These cottonwoods are magnificent, fast growing trees and reach great heights. They produce unusual capsule-shaped fruits and when conditions are right, these capsules burst open releasing tiny, fluffy seeds that drift through the air like dry snow and move with the slightest breeze. Joe Arbor also knew from experience that many more of these seeds germinate than reach maturity. At the Falls, those seeds that sprout nearest the river eventually are destroyed by the river during flooding. They simply get washed away or crushed by logs rolling in the waves. Joe Arbor decided to perform an experiment to see if he could successfully transplant a cottonwood tree to a safer location?
First Joe Arbor and Pip selected a little cottonwood growing in the sand. They next held hands and said a few kind words and explained to the tree what they were about to do and why. In this way, they hoped to obtain the tree’s blessing. Together, they carefully dug around the sand to uncover as much of the tree’s roots as they could. Bagging up the little tree roots and all the paired moved on to a different location.
All the while Joe Arbor and Pip were working, a small flock of Canada Geese were standing nearby and acted as guards and witnesses. Because the geese also live near the river they are also privy to the Earth’s nonverbal language and understood what was at stake here. Their presence added a bit of solemnity to the event.
With their valuable charge in a bag, the pair moved on to a pre-selected location they hoped would be favorable to the cottonwood tree. Cottonwood trees do best when they are close (but not too close) to the water. As they walked, Joe Arbor whistled an improvised melody partly out of nervousness and the excitement of the moment. As is his norm…Pip remained quiet.
A large enough hole was dug in the new location to accommodate all the young cottonwood’s roots. Sand and soil were shoveled lovingly around the tree.
After the tree was safely in the hole, Joe Arbor said a few words while Pip watered the transplant. It was hoped that the chosen location was the right distance from the river and that the young tree would grab a toe-hold here and prosper. Time will tell. The day still had one more nice surprise and it came from Pip. Joe Arbor didn’t know why he didn’t pay attention to this before, but Pip was wearing a circular, black, plastic box on a cord hung around his neck. This circular box was the container that smokeless tobacco is sold in. Many of these boxes routinely wash up at the Falls of the Ohio. Anyway, Pip opened up the container revealing its contents and this is what Joe Arbor saw.
Wrapped in mulberry leaves were four ripening mulberries. This is another tree that grows at the Falls of the Ohio and provides food for many birds and animals. The berries are sweet and juicy when ripe and some people find them tasty too. The leaves are interesting and come in different shapes with serrated edges.
Pip (who says very little) had his own tree planting experiment in mind and Joe Arbor got the idea. Moving to a different location, a new hole was dug in the rich soil and a berry was placed in that hole.
The process was repeated until all the berries were planted. Pip was curious to see if he could start a mulberry tree in this way or whether the seeds needed to travel through the gut of a bird or some other animal first? Again, time will tell. Satisfied that at least for today, the duo had done some good for the Earth, the pair picked up their gear and headed home together.
This little story is dedicated to an artist friend of mine I have never met. She has a vision of creating a tree art project around the world and if you are interested in learning more about it and perhaps participating…here is a link to a post she wrote about it: http://rooszwart.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/the-bridge-land-art-forest/