Field Notes THE STACKS

To Plant A Tree

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some sweet maandazi
for the birthday of a Nobel Prize winning activist.
** Linger to consider the trees in our lives.
** Savor a last ½ cup perusing my own herbarium, circa 1978.

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First Sip:

You can make a lot of speeches,
but the real thing

is when you dig a hole, plant a tree,
give it water, and make it survive.
That’s what makes the difference.

– Wangari Maathai


Slice of Cake:

Wangari Maathai 

The story that Wangari Maathai tells of her work
is of one small idea that led to a few
slightly bigger ideas, which in turn
led to even bigger—and more dangerous—ideas.

Maathai talks about how she started out
simply planting trees in Kenya, her home country.

When I first started,
it was really an innocent response to the needs
of women in rural areas

We started planting trees to meet

their needs.

In Kenya, women are the
first victims of environmental degradation,
because they are the ones who
walk for hours looking for water,
who fetch firewood,
who provide food for their families.

I want to do the right things—
I want to plant trees, I want to make sure that
the indigenous forests are protected

because I know, whatever happens,
these are the forests that contain biodiversity,
these are the forests that help us retain water when it rains
and keep our rivers flowing,
these are the forests that

many future generations
will need.

– Wangari Maathai

In 1977, Wangari Maathai established
the Green Belt Movement
to organize rural women to plant trees.1

Maathai talks about how this led her
to environmental activism.

Resources on the planet are limited
But there are also a lot of resources

that are renewable.
A lot of land, for example, can be
reclaimed from the encroaching deserts.

The generation that destroys the environment
is not the generation that pays the price.
That is the problem.

– Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai came to realize that peace is
dependent upon the proper and equitable
management of resources.

The tree is just a symbol
for what happens to the environment.
The act of planting one is a symbol
of revitalising the community.
Tree-planting is only the entry point into the
wider debate about the environment.

Everyone should plant a tree.

– Wangari Maathai 2

In 1988, the Green Belt Movement began
registering voters

and protesting for constitutional reform
and freedom of expression.2

The way in which we can promote peace is by
promoting sustainable management of our resources,
equitable distribution of these resources,
you have to have a political,
economic system that facilitates that.

And then you get

into the issues of human rights,
justice, economic justice, social justice,
and good governance or democratic governance.

– Wangari Maathai

Throughout most of the 1990s,
Wangari Maathai and her fellow protesters
were repeatedly beaten and jailed.

I was inspired by a traditional African tool that
has three legs and a basin to sit on.
To me the three legs represent three critical pillars
of just and stable societies.

The first leg stands for democratic space,
where rights are respected

human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights,
environmental rights.

The second represents sustainable
and equitable management of resources.

And the third stands for cultures of peace that are
deliberately cultivated within communities and nations.

The basin, or seat, represents society
and its prospects for development.

Unless all three legs
are in place, supporting the seat,
no society can thrive

When one leg is missing, the seat is unstable;
when two legs are missing, it is impossible to keep any state alive;
and when no legs are available, the state is as good as a failed state.
No development can take place

Instead, conflict ensues.

from Unbowed 3
by Wangari Maathai

Thankfully, Kenya saw
a new government elected
in 2002.
Wangari Maathai was elected
to the Kenyan Parliament and appointed
Deputy Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

In 2004, Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Recognizing that sustainable development,
democracy, and peace are indivisible is
an idea whose time has come.

Wangari Maathai
in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech 4

To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 51 million trees.1


Happy 80th Birthday
** Wangari Maathai

– born 1 April 1940
in Ihithe, Kenya


Linger Awhile:

Been thinking this week about trees.

I’ve always loved trees. And learning about the Green Belt Movement planting trees in Kenya got me thinking about all the efforts—individuals’ and community efforts—to plant, nurture and protect trees in so many of the different places I’ve lived.

I’m so grateful for those efforts.

Here are 4 True Tree Stories
plus one that’s probably a fib.

Trees & I didn’t
start out so well…

On my 6th birthday, I fell out of the apple tree in my backyard.

I ended up with a broken collarbone.
When I finally returned from the hospital, my birthday party was half over,
and with my arm in a sling, I couldn’t even open my presents.
My mother asked each of the kids to unwrap the gift they’d brought me.

Of course, this accident didn’t stop me climbing trees for long.
I spent a good chunk of my childhood, and into my teen years, up in trees.

Hometown orchards…

My junior high school had been built on land that was once a walnut orchard.
A dozen or more of the old walnut trees still stood around the school property.

I have terrific memories of not only climbing theses trees after school,
but also collecting bags of walnuts to bring home.
My mother made wonderful chocolate-walnut fudge for Halloween every year.

A town named Arbor…

A few years after graduating from college,
I moved to Michigan, to a town named for trees:
Ann Arbor.5

Prof B and I bought a 1920s farmhouse that was surrounded by lilac bushes as big as trees.

15-foot tall Lilac bushes
in my backyard in Michigan

It was here that we started a tradition of buying a live tree at Christmas—
then come spring, we’d plant it in the yard.

Last year I went back to Ann Arbor for a visit and I drove down the street where I used to live.

Ann Arbor House
Ann Arbor House

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but that middle tree that now towers over the house in the photo on the right is the little ‘Charlie Brown’ Christmas tree seen in the photo on the left.

I still like live Christmas trees.
Here’s me next to our Christmas tree from this past December—
we planted it just last week.

Me with a newly-planted
former Christmas tree


In the early 2000s, my family lived in a house that backed up to a nature preserve.

Those tall trees you can see over my back fence are 600-year-old kahikateas
part of a 3½ acre forest that’s been flourishing on this site for 3000 years.7
It’s a nature preserve called Riccarton Bush, and it’s probably the oldest
protected natural area in New Zealand.6

55-metre tall Kahikatea trees
over my back fence in Christchurch

Though by the late 1800s much of
the surrounding forest was cut down to build the city of Christchurch, one European pioneer family tried to preserve some of the old-growth forest, using mostly fallen or dead timber for firewood and fencing.

The story goes that on his deathbed in 1854, John Deans asked his wife Jane make sure that Riccarton Bush was preserved forever.

In 1914, the Deans family presented Riccarton Bush to the people of Christchurch, on condition that it be preserved for all time in its natural state. A Board of Trustees was set up, and Riccarton Bush was opened to the public in February 1917. 6

In 2004, the Riccarton Bush Trust put up a predator-proof fence to further protect the native birds and trees that live in the forest.

According to my daughter, who visited there last November,
the birdsong at sunset is more amazing than ever.

¿Cactus = Tree?

In 2004, I moved back to America
to live surrounded by a very different kind of forest.

A forest of saguaros
Tucson, Arizona

Did you know that the city of Tucson
sits right in between Saguaro National Park East and Saguaro National Park West?

The story I heard was that before it became a national park, it was Saguaro National Forest.

But before it could qualify as a national forest,
someone had to convince somebody in the U.S. government that, yes, a saguaro cactus can be categorized as a tree—and therefore a whole mess of cactus can be called a forest.

But perhaps that was just a story…


“Half Cup More”

When I was in high school, I discovered botany
and my love of trees, plants, and flowers took a scientific turn.

Here are some samples from my
Herbarium of California Wildflowers
circa 1978

Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)
collected Cantalow Road, Vacaville
on April 10, 1978
Quaking Grass (Briza minor)
collected Cantalow Road, Vacaville
on April 10, 1978
California huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
collected Alliance Redwoods, Sonoma County, CA
on April 8, 1978
California poppy (Escholtzia californica)
collected Gualala, Mendocino County, CA
on April 15, 1978


Take-Away Box

Every year the doctor
plants new wood plots
And he petitioned not to have the
old ones destroyed.

He says that
forests adorn the earth,
that they teach a man to
understand the beautiful and
inspire him to lofty moods.

Forests soften a severe climate.

In countries where the climate is mild, you spend
less effort in the struggle with nature, and so
man there is gentler and tenderer;

People are beautiful there:
lively, easily excited, their speech is exquisite,
their movements are graceful.
Their sciences and arts blossom,
their philosophy is not gloomy

Russian woods are creaking under the ax,
millions of trees perish,
dwellings of beasts and birds are emptied,
rivers go shallow and dry,

wonderful landscapes vanish
game becomes extinct,
the climate is ruined,
and every day the earth gets poorer and uglier

He must be a reckless barbarian todestroy
what we cannot create again.

But when I pass the peasants’ woods that I
have saved from being chopped down,
or when I hear the sound of my young wood rustling—
the stand I planted with my own hands—I realize that
climate too is a little in my power

A thousand years from now
if man should be happy, why, then
I’ll be a small part of that too.

When I plant a birch and see it later on
burst into green and wave in the wind,

my soul fills with pride

– from Uncle Vanya (1896)
Anton Chekhov
translated by Stark Young


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…


notes & footnotes

Interesting side note:
Wangari Maathai won a scholarship to study
in the United States as part of a program
initiated by John Kennedy
in which 300 Kenyans – including Barack Obama’s father –
were chosen to study at American universities in 1960.

Wangari Maathai met with Senator Barack Obama
on his visit to Kenya in 2006.
Together they planted a tree
in Uhuru Park, Nairobi.

Green Belt Movement
Founded in 1977 by Professor Wangari Maathai,
the Green Belt Movement (GBM) works at the grassroots, national,
and international levels to promote environmental conservation;
to build climate resilience
and empower communities, especially women and girls;
to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods.”

Wangari Maathai obituary

by John Vidal
in The Guardian
26 Sep 2011

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; Vintage/Anchor, 2008)

The Nobel Prize Organisation

You can read Wangari Maathai’s acceptance speech here:

Ann Arbor Government
Ann Arbor was settled in 1823 by two couples,
John & Ann Isabella Allen from Virginia
and Elisha & Mary Ann Rumsey from New York.
The numerous burr oaks provided a shady retreat,
and since both women had Ann in their names,
they began calling the area “Ann’s Arbor.”
Supposedly, when John Allen became village president,
he wanted to call it Allensville
but the women preferred “Annarbour.”
Only later did the town name simplify to Ann Arbor.

Christchurch City Library

Riccarton Bush Trust


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© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

2 thoughts on “To Plant A Tree”

  1. I have mouthwatering memories of the pear TREE in your back yard in Ann Arbor.
    Your posts remind me of past enjoyable and inspiring people. Thanks.
    Aunt Jean

    1. Thank you, Aunt Jean! And thanks for reminding me about that pear tree. My kids’ early birthdays all featured homemade chocolate-pear cake for a reason!
      Much love – Kelly

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