Ever since I was a child perched high in the maple tree in our suburban backyard 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 breath 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 town 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. In the 1950s, motorcycle races wore down the path. (I have a distinct memory of riding on the back of a fellow student’s motorscooter across Tappan Square during that era, but fortunately avoided participating in a race!)
In 2008, Wal-Mart requested electrical service from Lorain-Medina Rural Electric, so the path was widened so that trucks could install the necessary components. Unfortunately the workers overlooked the fact that the drainage pipe became completely clogged in the process, so now the water could no longer flow in its natural direction from west to east and has created a lake approximately 60 by 100 feet and about three feet deep. The man-made “dam” has been neglected ever since and the trees are now inundated by water. A dozen have died already, and the rest are gasping. Not only are they themselves in danger, but as the roots eventually give way they will endanger the power lines.
We’re reminded every spring of the beauty of our 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 became 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 “Tree City USA” as proclaimed by signs as you enter town, and contributing to our city’s efforts towards environmental sustainability.
Our community’s culture of living in harmony with all people is increasingly embracing life 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 — beginning by cleaning out that drainpipe — 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.