Friday, August 24, 2012

Trees Are Like Friends

Bull Creek Valley- Jennifer Ailor
Jennifer Ailor* wrote a beautiful article published in the Springfield News-Leader.  For those outside of the area, I am reprinting it here.

Trees are like friends to local naturalist

Looking out my window into a valley of Mark Twain National Forest, I see a forest dying for a drink. True, our spotty rains have helped some trees, but they all need a Big Gulp.

The occasional brown spot in a canopy of green in my valley has morphed into streaks and clumps of brown trees along the ridge tops and on southern-facing slopes. Walking my tree-shaded lane, I see close up how much they need that drink: limp, droopy leaves on the understory papaws; shriveled, crunchy-looking dogwood leaves; yellowing sycamores. It’s painful to see their stress.

I’ve always been a tree lover. I love their gray bones and intricate barks in winter, delicate greens of spring, welcoming shade of summer and in-your-face fall color.

Growing up in north Missouri, I’d ride my horse, Sparkle, into “the timber,” as we called it, a badly cut-over woodlot. The big woods of “A Girl of the Limberlost” they were not but nevertheless beautiful to me. I’d soak up the trees’ strength and dignity and silence (corny, I know, but they felt almost like sentient beings), taking delight in even the most scraggly, misshapen seedling. 

Sometimes the woods were my escape and comfort when my dad was angry. Come cutting time, it was gut-wrenching to see my friends turned into firewood for our uninsulated old farmhouse.  Today, I feel the same when I see the bodies of trees stacked on big trucks headed for sawmills to be turned into pallets that often end up in landfills — an inglorious end to century-old oaks.

There’s not much we can do to give our Ozarks woods a drink in this dreadful drought. Just too many trees. But we can take care of the young trees struggling in yards and along city streets, giving them enough sips of water to survive until the rains come. These baby trees need a helping hand.

We also can plant trees. If there’s no more room on your property for another tree, then give to organizations that will plant trees for you, such as the Arbor Day Foundation,, and Plant a Tree USA, Give to organizations like Forest Releaf,, here in Missouri, which provides free trees for public and not-for-profit spaces.
Close to home, think of Joplin, which lost an estimated 15,000 trees. Check with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Ric Mayer for how you can help.

It’s easy in the Ozarks to take trees for granted because we are blessed with such an abundance. But worldwide, I’ve learned we’re losing millions of acres of trees every year. The most serious logging and clearance for mining and ranching is not the Amazon but the boreal forests of Canada and Russia.
Trees shelter us, feed us, shade us, soothe us. Perhaps they also may keep this Earth livable: Trees are one of the Earth’s natural carbon sinks for absorbing the excess carbon dioxide that is turning this planet into the toasty oven we’ve suffered through this summer.  A single acre of trees absorbs enough CO2 over a year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles! For a list of “tree benefits,” go to

As a Missouri Master Naturalist in the Springfield Plateau chapter, I appreciate trees even more than I did as a kid on horseback. I’m proud to be a tree hugger and hope more of you will love your trees and plant others. Just don’t forget to water.

Jennifer Ailor, as President of the Springfield Chapter of Master Naturalist, volunteers to share programs and information about our natural world to area groups. Learn more at


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