The opportunity should not be lost, which is afforded by the occasion, for illustrating and enforcing the thought that the universe, its creation, its arrangement, and all of its developing processes, are not due to human planning or oversight, but to the infinite wisdom and power of God.
The tree of the field is mans life. Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord. The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
What a noble gift to man are the Forests! What a debt of gratitude and admiration we owe to their beauty and their utility! How pleasantly the shadows of the wood fall upon our heads when we turn from the glitter and turmoil of the world of man!
The school children of New York State planted more than 200,000 trees within ten years from the time Arbor Day was recognized. Few similar efforts in years have been more thoroughly commendable than the effort to get our people practically to show their appreciation of the beauty and usefulness of trees.
What earnest worker, with hand and brain for the benefit of his fellow-men, could desire a more pleasing recognition of his usefulness than the monument of a tree, ever growing, ever blooming, and ever bearing wholesome fruit?
The great object to be attained through the observance of Arbor Day is the cultivation of a love for nature among children, with the confident expectation that thereby the needless destruction of the forests will be stayed, and the improvement of grounds about school buildings and residences will be promoted.
We know that our forests are in danger of being decimated by the ruthless strokes of the woodchoppers ax, and we know that to prevent that crisis, children, in the West especially, have been encouraged on this holiday to plant some tree or shrub to provide for future use and beauty.
Tree Planting on Arbor Day for economic purposes in the great West has given to the prairie States many thousand acres of new forests, and inspired the people with a sense of their great value, not only for economic purposes, but for climatic and meteorological purposes as well.
There is something nobly simple and pure in a taste for the cultivation of forest trees. It argues, I think, a sweet and generous nature to have this strong relish for the beauties of vegetation, and this friendship for the hardy and glorious sons of the forest. He who plants a tree looks forward to future ages, and plants for posterity. Nothing could be less selfish than this.
The primary purpose of the Legislature in establishing Arbor Day, was to develop and stimulate in the children of the Commonwealth a love and reverence for Nature as revealed in trees and shrubs and flowers. In the language of the statute, to encourage the planting, protection and preservation of trees and shrubs was believed to be the most effectual way in which to lead our children to love Nature and reverence Natures God, and to see the uses to which these natural objects may be put in making our school grounds more healthful and attractive.
So remarkable have been the results of Arbor Day in Nebraska, that its originator is gratefully recognized as the great benefactor of his State. Proofs of public appreciation of his grand work are found throughout the State. It glories in the old misnomer of the geographies, The Great American Desert, since it has become so habitable and hospitable by cultivation and tree planting. Where, twenty years ago, the books said trees would not grow, the settler who does not plant them is the exception.
The Bible is full of trees; from the time when Adam and Eve sat under their shadow in Eden, on to that splendid vision of the New Jerusalem, where the tree of life bears twelve manner of fruits and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Absaloms oak, and Elijahs juniper, and Jonahs gourd, and the sycamore which hoisted little Zaccheus into notice, are all familiar to every Sunday school scholar. Our Lord hung one of His most solemn parables on the boughs of a barren fig tree, and drew one of His most apt illustrations of the growth of His kingdom from the mustard which becomes tall enough for the birds to nestle in its branches.
An eminent educator says: Any teacher who has no taste for trees, shrubs, or flowers is unfit to be placed in charge of children. Arbor Day has enforced the same idea, especially in those States in which the pupils have cast their ballots on Arbor Day in favor of a State tree and State flower. Habits of observation have thus been formed which have led youth in their walks, at work or play, to recognize and admire our noble trees, and to realize that they are the grandest products of nature and form the finest drapery that adorns the earth in all lands.
In the olden times trees were planted about the home to commemorate events in the family. Grandfathers and grandmothers maple trees still stand in front of the old homestead gate. They were planted on their wedding day many years ago. Large, grand trees they are now, and they have been the homes of generations of birds who have been reared amid their branches and taught how to use their wings, and each summer time they seem to increase in number. A new tree was planted when each little child came to gladden the home. They were birthday trees. Here and there on the homestead grounds stand the memorial trees, planted when some of the loved ones went away from the home on earth to the Fathers home above.
Arbor Day has taken its place, and will no doubt hold its own among the holidays of the American people. It has done a wonderful work among the children, not only in its influence as a practical factor in the beautifying of the yards and streets about the school buildings; but best of all has been the impetus given by it to the study of nature. The very fact that once every year the youth of our country may prepare for a day devoted to trees, has aroused them to observe and ask questions, and the coming generation will know more about them than did their fathers and mothers.
Let the people lay aside for a season the habitual activity of the day and devote sufficient time thereof to plant a forest, fruit or ornamental tree along the public highways and streams, in private and public parks, about the public schoolhouses and on the college grounds, in gardens and on the farms, thus promoting the pleasure, profit, and prosperity of the people of the State, providing protection against floods and storms, securing health and comfort, increasing that which is beautiful and pleasing to the eye, comforting to physical life, and elevating the mind and heart, and by associations and meetings excite public interest and give encouragement to this most commendable work.
It appears that the woodland of the United States now covers 450,000,000 acres, or about twenty-six per cent of the whole area. Of this not less than 25,000,000 acres are cut over annually, a rate of destruction that will bring our forests to an end in eighteen years if there is no replanting. It is also stated that while the wood growing annually in the forests of the United States amounts to 12,000,000,000 cubic feet, the amount cut annually is 24,000,000,000 feet, and this does not include the amount destroyed by fire. The countrys supply of timber, therefore, is being depleted at least twice as fast as it is being reproduced, and it is easy to see that unless this process is soon checked, it will not be many years before the country is suffering from a decrease in rainfall, and the consequent drying up of the streams.
Children may not be able to understand the importance of trees in their aggregation as forests; however, they will, if allowed to assemble in a grove or park, be inspired with the idea that trees are one of the grandest products of God when they hear that without them the earth could never have produced the necessaries of life, and that with their destruction we could not keep up the sustained growth of the plants that feed man and animals. There is no more suitable subject for practical oral lessons, now common in most of our schools, than the nature of plants, and especially that of trees and the value of tree-planting.
It is encouraging to know that in so many places there is a growing tendency to purchase so-called waste lands and to hold them for the enjoyment of the people. We call to mind another region in Connecticut where the villagers are united in their interest to preserve all the rural charms of the neighborhood. Miles of highway have been purchased with no other purpose than to allow nature to frolic in her own free way by the roadside. Forests have been bought that they might be held for public enjoyment and the feeling of the community is strong for the preservation of all wild spots which will help to satisfy the desire for beauty and repose.
Forest areas exercise a positive climatic influence upon the surrounding country. They modify the extremes of heat and cold, and render the temperature more equable throughout the year. The deforesting of large areas of hilly and mountainous country affects to a very large extent the quantity of water that comes from springs and flows in rivers. The more apparent is this when the deforesting occurs on the head waters of important streams. Then the water power is destroyed or greatly impaired, navigation impeded, commerce interfered with, and droughts and floods are more frequent and more severe. The interests of agriculture and horticulture are greatly subserved by the proper distribution of forest areas through their climatic and hydrographic influence. A country, embracing within its borders the head waters of all the streams and rivers that interlace it, when stripped of its forest covering becomes a barren waste, incapable of supporting man or beast.
Arbor Day in the public schools is doing something toward the replenishing of treeless regions, restoring forest trees to their former habitation, and also toward the extermination of savagery toward all tree growth from the boys of this generation. Heredity from the slayers of trees in their fight with the primeval woods, will require heroic treatment. A boy with a hatchet is still a desolater, and with an axe he is a scourge second only to the forest burner; when he grows to manhood his greed is proof against all sentiment or suggestion of remoter consequences. For centuries now the matchless forests of this country have been faced with the cry of Kill! Kill! There has been no mercy and no recourse. Slaughter has waged unhindered and unrebuked. Timber forests, with unlimited supply under care and culture, have been ruined. The waste has been more than the product. For bark, for charcoal and firewood, for fence posts and railroad ties, for lumber and shingles, for spars and ship timbers, for wooden ware, matches, and even toothpicks, the woods have been flayed alive. We have wasted our inheritance until the resulting shame is beginning to show. Forest laws that are sharp and usable as axes are demanded. The ownership of woodland must not carry the right to abuse it. Lands that are important water preserves should be protected the same as public reservoirs. Private ownership which has proved detrimental to public interests should be suppressed by public purchases. All possible restraints must be put on the marauders and incendiaries of the woods. For toleration of this criminal treatment of trees has reached its limit. The sentiment of our people is ready to sustain the hand of justice in the defense of these true friends of man.