Our responsibility to the trees around us

I am a shameless patriot. I love the mix of customs and cultures in my New England suburb. I love the fabric of my city’s government with its dedicated legislators and teams of volunteer citizens, and the way our mayor shows up to deliver the heartfelt commencement address at our library’s student writing contest. And I especially love the big old oaks and sycamores in my neighborhood, and the little pond down the street, home to turtles and visiting frogs and herons. I want this kind of America to live on, for all of our children and grandchildren.

As a country, we are about to celebrate our 246th anniversary, and as the 4th of July approaches, I have pondered what it means to be an American citizen. What are our rights and responsibilities? Some of our citizenship rituals are obvious: we pay taxes, we vote, and we volunteer our time to help other Americans live comfortably. But there is another sometimes overlooked practice that we should add to our citizenship curriculum: we need to take care of our land as our land takes care of us.

On a plane trip to Connecticut this spring, it was comforting to see, from my window seat, an expanse of lush green foliage with small towns nestled among the trees. The recent announcement that 10,000 street trees have been planted in the city of New Haven over the past few decades by Urban Resources Initiative, an organization dedicated to maintaining and expanding the city’s tree canopy, also been encouraging. Similar efforts are underway in Hartford and Norwalk, among other Connecticut communities.

At the same time, small conservation efforts have sprung up in Hamden, my suburb, which deserve more recognition. For example, a handful of my neighbors observed “No Mow May,” a month-long moratorium on grass cutting that gave pollinators (at least in our yard) a chance to feast on carpet clover. and bugle. In our town’s high school, the science teacher planted a variety of fruit trees in a grassy courtyard. These initiatives are important because, unfortunately, Hamden has a meager budget for trees in the town. This spring, only about three dozen city-funded trees went into the ground, barely enough to replace the hundreds we’ve lost recently to weather, development, disease, and old age.

Urban and suburban trees are an essential part of our infrastructure. Scientists have clearly documented how neighborhood trees mitigate global warming, preserve biodiversity, clean toxins from the air and soil, prevent flooding, reduce energy costs, reduce crime, and create a wonderful sense of place. .

It may take years for resource-strapped towns like Hamden to allocate funds to preserve our green infrastructure. As good citizens, we must not wait for others to take the lead. We can approach this public sector shortfall as an opportunity for the private sector. With our small plots of land to maintain, we suburbanites can start simply by planting a single native tree in our yards, or even donating it to a local school or place of worship.


In his visionary bestseller “Nature’s Best Hope“, University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy describes his brilliant and creative plan for the largest national conservation project ever attempted: the local national park. Tallamy urges those of us who live in the suburbs to work together to intentionally expand native plant habitats to preserve biodiversity, even if that means planting one or two trees at a time. (Since learning about Home-Grown State Park, my husband and I have planted several native trees in our yard, and our next-door neighbors have followed suit with their own lovely native shrub garden. ) It is a project that relies on civic engagement and asks us to reframe our notions of our rights and responsibilities as American citizens.

The idea of ​​mutual flourishing between the human and natural worlds is not new, writes Native American ecologist and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer in his essay “Maple Nation: A Citizenship Guide.” In fact, Kimmerer’s Anishinaabe culture views trees as people, “standing people.” Here in the Northeast and in the New York City of Kimmerer, where maple trees outnumber people 100 times, trees shower humans with their gifts: timber, syrup, shade, and windbreaks. They make soil out of leaves, houses for songbirds and they provide branches for children’s swings.

But more than that, Kimmerer aptly asserts, maple trees are citizen-leaders who offer their services, store carbon and create oxygen, and make our lives possible. Generosity comes naturally to trees and it should happen to us too.

Now, as we celebrate another year as Americans, supporting each other with all of our wonderful laws and freedoms, our splendid rights and responsibilities, it’s time to ask ourselves: what can we do now to take care of our beautiful earth?

Susan Neitlich lives in Hamden.

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