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 her 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,
and that the only way you can actually do that,
is that then 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.

Wangari Maathai
in Unbowed 3

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, the Nobel Committee
awarded Wangari Maathai 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 (F)

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 four true tree stories. And one that’s probably a fib.

Trees and I did not start out well.

On my 6th birthday, I fell out of the apple tree in my backyard.
I ended up with a broken collarbone and my arm in a sling.
When I finally returned from the hospital, my birthday party was half over.
I had to ask my guests to unwrap the gifts they’d brought me.

As for climbing trees,
this accident didn’t stop me for long. I grew up climbing trees.

My junior high school had a walnut orchard.

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

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

I lived in 1920s farmhouse surrounded by lilac bushes as big as trees.

15-foot tall Lilac bushes
in my backyard in Michigan

It was here that Prof B and I started the tradition of buying a live tree at Christmas, then planting it in the yard come spring.

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.

Riccarton Bush is probably the oldest protected natural area in New Zealand.6
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

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

By the late 1800s, much of the surrounding forest was cut down to build the city of Christchurch. The European pioneer family that lived here was named Deans, and to preserve some of the old-growth forest, they tried to use only 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.

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
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 tress 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 to…
destroy 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.

Maathai met with Senator Barack Obama
on his visit to Kenya in 2006,
and 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.”

The Guardian

article by John Vidal
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


Please note:
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© Kelly J Hardesty 2023

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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