The branches that “lift the leafy arms above,” give rest and homes to robins, squirrels and other wildlife while predators lurch below. One big old oak tree can give enough nuts for squirrels, deer, raccoons, and even turkeys. We must learn to live with our wildlife. Even the decomposition of trees in their senesces nurtures the soil to provide nutrients for new tree seedlings to flourish. Large veteran (aged) trees, even in their decline, can remain in an open space as a habitat for wildlife. Old trees can provide food, shelter, oxygen to thousands organisms, including ourselves. Care for the aged tree is needed like that of ourselves for the benefit of humanity.
Trees not only lend a branch to our physical world but also coddle our minds and hearts. In Japan, researchers have long studied forest bathing. A walk in the woods decreases the level of stress chemicals in our human bodies and stimulates the natural immune system to fight invasive threats such as viruses and cell destruction. Studies in inner cities show anxiety, depression and crime decrease in a landscaped environment.
Now that a case for trees has been made on a superficial level, let us examine the line, “A tree whose hungry mouth prest against the sweet earth’s breast.” The reference to the earth is marvelous but invisible. The roots in the midst of the soil food web cycle engage in soil stabilization preventing erosion and water run off. Prest against the earth, the working tree roots can absorb some of the excess phosphorous and nitrogen that leach off fields and at the same time the tree can provide, in concert with living organisms, fungi and bacteria, food for its own health.
This marvelous horticultural specimen is a machine that works without electricity, wires, wifi or whatever gadget that occupies our hands and minds. Let us respect its leaves that process carbon dioxide from the air plus light from the sun and water from the soil to form photosynthates (sugars, starches,carbohydrates and proteins)and release oxygen as a byproduct. This process is better known as photosynthesis. The air that we breath is cleaner and less polluted.
The bark of the willow tree provided aspirin, a medicine for simple pain and inflamation, and the Pacific yew tree provides a treatment for more serious diseases such as cancer of the breast. Synthetics follow the origins of these medicines.
All in all, the “Tree” poem captures the majesty of a tree. Let us rejoice that we still have a tree option for our environment to cleanse and repair the damage done by us fools. “Going forward” for real and let us plant a tree.