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Celebrating the Earth: Planting a Tree

Celebrating the Earth: Planting a Tree

By Emma DayBranch
April 21, 2014

The celebration of Mother Earth, although undoubtedly something that should be practiced every day, is made official this Tuesday with Earth Day. This international holiday was first held on April 22nd 1970 and was the result of a campaign for clearer, cleaner air. Incidentally, the Environmental Protection Agency was created as a part of the solution that same year. Now, Earth Day is an internationally recognized event. This year, demonstrations and activities from tree planting in Ghana to tree planting in Moldova to even tree planting here in St. Lawrence County - Ah! Would you look at that! Although certainly there are many ways to celebrate Earth Day, and countries, towns and citizens exemplifying that, clearly there is something powerfully universal and enduring in the planting of a tree. I certainly found it to be so. 

 An Earth Day MarchTree planting on Earth Day


Mine was an apple named Freedom. She stood about 7 feet tall and came in a bundle of friends looking like a giant witch's broom. She arrived with her father, a local tree wizard, Bill Mckently, who had grafted her himself. He showed us the healed scar just two inches above the root structure. The scar resembled a z and described where his practiced hand had cut one apple root stock and bound it with another in a seamless motion he performed in a matter of seconds. The joining takes the qualities of survival found in the root and gives them an edible sweet name like Freedom, McIntosh, Johnny, Paula Reds, Sweet Sixteens and the adored North Country classic, Honey Crisp.


The late afternoon sun caramelized the tops of our heads pooling on our necks and cheeks as we walked up the hill. The sky was seamless and blue with only the faint strains of St. Lawrence Spring Fest to remind us we weren't in heaven. There were a dozen of us ranging along the slope squinting to visualize the tree wizard's description of natural water flow and land contours. Soon we had a gently meandering line of stakes ranging along two hundred feet. The air got sweeter and the shadows longer as we dug two foot by two foot holes. Bill showed us how to use a tarp to create three piles of dirt. One was the turf top, one contained top soil and finally the last was deeper subsoil. These piles would be reversed while planting the tree. 


Bill explained that the top soil can always be enriched with compost, but this was our only chance to help out the root soil. It was our job to bring the stuff closest to the sun, the green stuff, to the roots. So the turf pieces were packed into the bottom with increased nutrients for our tender tree roots. It was important to nestle the tree roots down into the hole with the largest roots pointing west to establish a strong root system in the same direction as the strong winds. This will combat any tendencies for leaning. Then we used the power of our heels to pack in the earth of first the top soil and finally the less nutrias subsoil around the tree trunk.  


As the sun climbs down into the tree tops and the whisper of a chill comes into the air, our three apple and two pear saplings stand proudly in their crooked smiling line. Thin legs standing in soil dishes mounded to catch the water run-off from the higher ground. For now, the wet rings around their trunks are from our hauled water buckets. Wire mesh encircles each sapling's trunk while lanky arms stretched up free to embrace the blue sky. Glancing out the kitchen window, we will hardly make out their slim forms on this key line. 


With a weekend of fair weather behind us, spring has finally arrived in the North Country. Earth Day is a great time to celebrate spring, create something beautiful, clean up a river, pick up some trash, or plant a tree!

By Emma DayBranch
Canton, New York

An art student at St. Lawrence University and a Nature up North intern, Emma hails from the green foothills of Maine. She has a long practice of building fairy houses in all kinds of ecosystems although says, "Mossy stream beds are the preferred host sight as the bryophytes provide ethereal atmosphere and the streams bubbling laughter." She loves the natural world, particularly climbing trees, and exploring the woods while imagining she is Sacajawea. Her recent exciting nature adventure has involved moonlight cross-country skiing and snow dancing. Emma looks forward to the spring time because it means she can get back to muddy knees and chipped nails from her community gardening projects.