In Praise of Trees

Preserving Alameda's Urban Forest

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.

    Trees are a huge part of the heritage of all urban communities, but nowhere more so than here in Alameda. The scope and condition of a community’s trees are usually the first impression a community projects to its visitors; its urban forest is an extension of its pride and community history. Take a stroll down Central Avenue from Webster Street to Grand Street, and you will know what I mean—that wonderful canopy over the street enhances every building under it, be it a grand Victorian or a modest bungalow or a mom-and-pop grocery store.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

    Hungry is the operative word here. In most areas of Alameda, we have sandy, loamy soil, and as water drains right through it, so do vital and much-needed nutrients. Feeding our street trees isn’t usually at the top of our to-do list, but it should be. A deep-root feeding at least three times a year is a really good thing. A thorough foliar feeding once a month would be another alternative—just use a good jet-spray attachment on your hose with trusty ole Miracle Gro. On young trees, doing both would be a blessing.

A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray;

    I can only guess that she is praying that whoever planted her didn’t plant her too deeply (1 inch of the top of the root ball above grade); that he staked her properly (never more than two-thirds the way up her trunk with a sturdy stake on each side, tied on opposite sides top and bottom); that he used a good time-release fertilizer to get her rooted well and makes sure that she is watered thoroughly and deeply once every five to seven days until she is 2 years old. She should also be praying that the stake is never left in place longer than one year, so that as she sways in the gentle breeze, her crown will swell and become sturdy enough to support her as she matures. And while she is at it, she might also put in a request for a knowledgeable and responsible pruning person when the time comes.

A tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair;

    Few of us are impervious to the amazing ingeniousness of a bird’s nest. There is always a sense of awe when we unexpectedly come upon one. Trees are the natural and essential habitat for a host of different creatures that nature has blessed us with, some more of a blessing than others—you have to admit that a squirrel really is cute as long as he stays in the trees.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; who intimately lives with rain.

    When we think about it, trees give so very much more than they take. They reduce the greenhouse effect by removing CO2 from the atmosphere during their photosynthesis process; they act as natural pollution filters by reducing the flow of storm water, which reduces the amount of pollution that is washed into a drainage area. Studies have shown that trees enhance community economic stability by attracting businesses and tourists; that people linger and shop longer along tree-lined streets; apartments and offices in wooded areas rent more quickly and have higher occupancy rates; property values increase from 5 to 15 percent when compared to properties without trees. Trees are important assets to any community and require maintenance the same as any other public property. They are on the job 24/7 working to improve our environment and quality of life. Unlike other public property, they are a living thing, and their giving just gets better and better as they get older. We must all accept responsibility for the care and culture of our community trees, one tree at a time. Alameda’s historic ambiance is in your hands. Imagine, if you will, Alameda stripped of all trees.

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.

—By Iris Watson
—Photography by Al Wright
—Poem by Albert Joyce Kilmer

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