Trees have always been awe-inspiring, even to our earliest ancestors. Trees can hold a poetic beauty as they sway in the breeze, musical tones fluttering from their leaves, colors riotously changing with the season. They are hallmarks of our holidays. They are the chroniclers of time, capturing in a ringed litany the ebb and wane of the world in which they are rooted. Trees protect, offer food, preserve the soil and provide resources. Indeed, one of their earliest representations illustrates the importance of trees to cultures through the ages:
In art, the tree of life is a common motif used in various forms to represent harmony, unity and connections between heaven and Earth, the past and present, death and rebirth. The symbol takes various forms, but basic elements include roots, trunk, branches and leaves, blossoms or fruit. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the tree of life is often used to represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Mexican tree of life often depicts religious stories, such as the tale of Adam and Eve or the story of Noah’s ark. The motif is also a traditional Celtic symbol, where it is often depicted as one big circle connecting all forms of life. We use the same tree of life design in “family trees” to depict connections within a family group.
Today is Arbor Day, a time to celebrate the ancient majesty and sustaining force that trees embody. First, a bit of history.
Let’s go back to 1805 in the Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra. Don Ramon Vacas Roxo was a priest who “(c)onvinced of the importance of trees for health, hygiene, decoration, nature, environment and customs,” decided to launch a tree planting festival. The first tree planted was a poplar in the Valley of the Ejido. The feast and plantings lasted three days and soon became an annual tradition that proudly continues to today. Don Ramon Vacas Roxo also drafted a manifesto sent to surrounding towns that exclaimed love and respect for nature and encouraged the establishment of plantations.
Later in the century and across the globe, another tree devotee emerged, this time in the United States. When J. Sterling Norton and his wife moved into the Nebraska territory in 1854, they missed the leafy vistas that they had enjoyed back in Detroit. A journalist by trade, Norton became editor of Nebraska’s leading paper and Secretary of the Nebraska territory. (Eventually he became the Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland.) In these positions he exerted considerable influence on popular perceptions regarding the beauty and health effects provided by trees, as well as the intrinsic value of tree planting for generations of Nebraskans. Through his efforts, Nebraska became a forerunner in managing resources through a campaign encouraging Nebraskans to plant trees. The first Arbor Day in the United States was held April 10, 1872. On that day approximately one million trees were planted in Nebraska. In 1885 Arbor Day became a legal holiday in the state, celebrated on April 22, Norton’s birthday. Although not a legal holiday in other states, all states in one way or another do celebrate, the most common commemoration being tree planting.
Today, Arbor Day is celebrated by countries throughout the world. Rather than waxing eloquently any further, however, let’s actually view some of these treasures from around the world in all their diverse glory. So trek over to your favorite leafy (or otherwise adorned) friend, have a sit down and enjoy the wonders of these beauteous, eye-popping and phantasmagorical images.
Click on the image below to view the enchanting slideshow of “The Most Ancient and Magnificent Trees From Around the World” courtesy of MSN Travel.
Other ways to celebrate Arbor Day:
- Learn about other countries who each year commemorate their own day of trees.
- Listen to Palestinian American poet Ibtisam Barakat read her poem on Tree Day, celebrated in Ramallah each April.
- View some extraordinary furniture created by molding trees as they grow.
 People and Trees: An Intimate Connection | American Forests. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2015, from https://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/people-and-trees-an-intimate-connection/