Arbor Day finds its origins in the United States by way of Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton, a vice-president of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, first proposed the day of tree planting for Nebraska, an otherwise prairie land. Mr. Morton incentivized tree planting to the various counties by offering a prize for the county that managed to plant the most trees. Mr. Morton described the difference and importance of a tree planting holiday like this when compared to other holidays, “Each of those reposes upon the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future. It contemplates, not the good and the beautiful of past generations, but it sketches, outlines, establishes the useful and the beautiful for the ages yet to come.” I would like to share my thoughts on two aspects of Arbor Day, the nature of planning and the importance of using symbols to represent importance.

Thinking about the chaos of life and the inability to control much of anything, let alone, what will happen this very next moment, I find it an odd but powerful practice to plant a tree in an attempt to outline the “ages yet to come”.  This tree planting process, sounds a lot like planning. I am not good at planning. You have to consider appropriate species, site location, soil composition, proper planting, potential risks as the tree matures and continued care. (See, a lot of planning) Despite all these steps, nothing is guaranteed. Planning isn’t dictating what will happen in the future, as I tend to believe. Planning is setting an intention with steps to achieve a goal.  Great planning understands the nature of life and builds in flexibility for the unpredictability of the future. So why plant a tree aside from an exercise is proper planning?

Symbols. Symbols are powerful. Having a living symbol is even more powerful. The tending of anything living brings us to the present moment. Being present to this moment is my only opportunity to be impactful now and influence the future. With a tree, I have to be engaged in the growing process. The gardener who sits idle quickly tends to a bare plot. In my past career as a landscaper, I had gardens which were my responsibility. If I did not participate in the course of nature, rabbits ate the flowers, grubs destroyed the grass and fungus overtook the trees. I must take an active role in the progress towards my goal. For example, in work if I do not communicate on a regular basis with those I work with and for, I become like the branches of an unpruned apple tree; sure, all branches are working for the growth of the tree, but when branches become crossed, like lines of communication, growth actually gets stunted as the tree wastes energy supporting branches that do not help the apple tree produce apples.

Arbor Day truly is unique with its eye towards the present and future. Arbor Day calls us to live now building a future. I encourage you to intentionally plan for your future while being present to those around you. If planting a tree helps to do that, then please do!

Arbor Day history:

How to plant a tree: