Ever since I was a child perched high in the maple tree in our suburban back yard in New York, I have admired trees.
When I was in third grade, I wrote an ode to a tree, which, I have to admit, did not begin to rival Joyce Kilmer’s, despite the fact that my father mimeographed multiple copies to pass out to family and friends. About that time, I learned the astonishing fact that trees breathe out what we breathe in, and vice versa, and began to appreciate their place in the entire natural world, not just my own. Later, I learned the scientific language for this phenomenon: Trees sequester the carbon emitted by human activities of all kinds, from driving to manufacturing. They are our allies in the effort to keep this planet livable for future generations.
So I suppose it is not surprising that the plight of a grove of maple trees next to the Ramsey Right-of-way, a path south of Oberlin and west of the Splash Zone, both saddens and alarms many people. Their plight has a long history, beginning with the construction of a railroad bed in 1905, necessitating the insertion of a drainage pipe so that water would flow away from the woodland, rather than remain beside the tree roots, cutting off oxygen. When the pipe eventually became blocked with debris and neglected, the former wetlands became a large pond. The pipe remained clogged, and the roots of the trees are inundated by water. A dozen have died already, and the rest are gasping.
We’re reminded every spring of the beauty of trees as we celebrate their bright blossoms along our streets and in our gardens and observe Earth Day and Arbor Day. Trees need greater appreciation, however. There is also a need for ongoing awareness of their right to life!
In the book “The Lorax,” the inimitable Dr. Seuss’s strange creature, the Lorax, looks sadly at the stumps of truffala trees and asks himself, “Who speaks for the trees?” He answers that question by deciding to become their voice himself.
Perhaps Oberlin needs its own “Lorax Committee” of citizens who speak for the trees, not just those beside the Ramsey Right-of-Way, but throughout the city of Oberlin, thereby maintaining Oberlin’s proud status as an Arbor Day Tree City and contributing to our city’s widely-known dedication to environmental sustainability.
Our community’s culture of living in harmony with all people has already embraced living in harmony with the natural world, as well. If we tend quickly to the suffocating trees near the Ramsey Right-of-Way, through proper maintenance, they would eventually breathe more freely, and so would we!
Nancy Roth, a graduate of Oberlin College, is an assisting priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Oberlin. Author of 13 books, the latest is “Grounded in Love: Ecology, Faith, and Action.” Her concern for the environment was first inspired by her son Christopher and is now further energized by concern for the planet that her beloved grandchildren will inherit.