The Shadows (absent their namesake) and I began our Nov. 7 Saturday morning walk in the usual fashion – they pulled eagerly toward the park on the other side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and I struggled to manage their excitement.
So, rather than show you our trademark photo of “shadows,” I spotted something else I want to talk to you about. Trees.
I gave my Shadows their command. “Picture!” Sadie (Chocolate) and Hailie (Black) quickly obeyed. Pablo, the independent Silver Lab, continued searching the ground, glancing at me to say, “I’m independent! I’ll stop when I say, not when you say!” But eventually, with a resolute commitment in my voice, he complied, albeit from the other side of the split-rail fence.
At their feet and rear ends are the matter I want you to observe. Leaves. From a tree.
It’s rare that I mix my personal beliefs with my occupation as a spokesperson for the Farm Service Agency, a branch of USDA, but I must this day, because we take for granted the value of nature. Nature matters to our existence, our sustainability (despite my disdain for this overused word).
Regardless where we are, what language we speak, or the way we coexist in our various cultures, we must not ignore nature.
The tree, for instance, is a gift. Whether you believe in God, or a supreme power by any other name, or if you simply say half-heartedly that Mother Nature grants us these gifts, we all acknowledge that we share the planet with life we really don’t understand.
The tree is a complex plant in the same way we are all complex animals. There are different kinds, different appearances and different life cycles. But we and trees share the elements of the Earth in a symbiotic way. We give them many things they need and they give us many things we need.
When the Shadows and I see progress in our neighborhood destroying trees to make room for more cramped living quarters, we cringe. Of course, we (I) know the benefits of living so conveniently situated between DC and Baltimore, however, it still annoys us (me) that progress destroys nature for convenience.
Why am I so upset by this kind of progress? Because we also live near one of this nation’s natural treasures – the Chesapeake Bay.
It’s not just the beauty of the Bay nor the commerce the Bay supports by its passageway to the Atlantic that creates its value. The Chesapeake Bay has been a critically important food and recreation source. Anyone who has feasted on crabs, oysters, rockfish and other sea foods, or has sailed from Annapolis, knows what I’m saying.
Trees are the Bay’s necessary friends. To see them disappear from along a nearby tributary that meanders to the Bay is alarming. Trees drink the nutrients from the soil that is often added by humans to make crops grow faster and yields grow larger. More grains, nuts, fruits and fibers grow because we give them nutrients. Our lawns look greener, too, but in the water, added nutrients foster microscopic growth that robs oxygen from marine life. Removing the trees increases the flow of these nutrients – good on the land, but bad in the sea – so the end result is an unintended consequence.
People have observed this dilemma for too long for the problem to still exist, especially since the government through USDA has offered a reasonable solution.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) made available nearly 30 years ago is a program that offers incentives to plant more trees along buffers that separate fields and lawns from water. Buffers enhanced by a variety of trees drink up to 90 percent of runoff nutrients. They protect the Chesapeake Bay and every other water body, including the Gulf of Mexico where hypoxia is especially harmful.
The evidence for improvement is in the numbers. An acre of trees and buffer grasses adjacent to cropland holds back 2.5 tons of soil, which on average includes 6.4 pounds of nitrogen and 1.1 pounds of phosphorus. Further, in 2014, CRP lowered greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 43 million metric tons of CO2, which is like taking nearly eight million cars off the road for a year.
I hope you will conclude like I do that our behaviors need to change. We need to respect nature. When we do, nature will do a better job of taking care of us as God’s intelligent beings placed on Earth to care for all of life. Most times we do well; other times not.
I love my Shadows because they drag me along to think about these things and admire nature. I enjoy our morning walks and admiring trees…
” …A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”