Category Archives: Planting Trees

Planting Trees – May 29, 2013

By Leon Lindley

Out Your Back Door

When you step out your back door, you’re stepping on to a path; you’re starting a journey and beginning an adventure. 

It was early on a Friday morning when I was about to exit the house by way of my back door. Clutching a cup of coffee, my mind was working through a long list of projects that I needed to get done. As my mind and body stumbled out the door, several things happened at once. First, a woodchuck came loping across the yard. Next, a pair of shrieking wood ducks exploded from an ephemeral pool near the house, and at the same moment, a series of birds burst from around my feeder with a splash of color and sound. My mind was immediately cleared. I took in a breath of the fragrant air and mused to myself, “What a grand way to meet the day.”

Not everyone has a backyard like mine, but most of us can find such a spot without going too far. Certainly in Black Hawk County, we have many such places in our parks. The perfect thing about our natural areas is that they are free for everyone to visit. Not only can you discover your adventure, you can do it on a budget.

Adventures are everywhere for you to find and, as the seasons change, new adventures appear.  Have you noticed the spring greens this year? I was walking in the park early in the morning and the sun was trying to break through. It was spectacular! The greens, so many kinds. The willows, a clean yellow green. The grass, an iridescent darker green. Everything seemed to be a different shade of fluorescent green. A master painter with an enormous palate could not have come up with such rich greens.

With spring comes the discovery of  bluebells, large patches of heavenly blue. The valleys are a river of blue, the trails a highway of blue. Up close the bluebells form those most perfect flowers and, on closer inspection, not all are the same blue. Some are more pinkish blue, some are violet blue and every year, I find a few snow-white bluebells. They make for a merry stroll in the woods while looking for mushrooms.

I recall an afternoon I spent with some high school students who were helping me clear brush from a trail prairie when, unexpectedly, we found a prize. One of the young students gave a jump and a shout and, after securing some distance, yelled “Snake!” A quick investigation produced a fine specimen of the prairie, a five to six foot bull snake. It was an unusually large, elegant constrictor and it possessed amazing strength as it wrapped itself around my arm. After the initial fear, most students moved closer while I explained a little of the snake’s biology. I explained that bull snakes and blue racers were the two most prairie-adapted snakes we could find on the nature trail. Many of the students took the opportunity to run their hands over the snake to feel its keeled scales before we released it back to the prairie. Discovery and adventure are everywhere.

Nature and natural areas offer us a change of pace and a chance for a different kind of adventure. We are blessed in Black Hawk County to have so many different opportunities and the price is right – FREE. Get out and explore. Help your children discover nature. Rediscover your own youth, make your own adventure. It’s all there right out your back door.

Planting Trees – May 8, 2013

By Leon Lindley

A Simple Thing?

This year, Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd. As part of previous Earth Day celebrations, our local Trees Forever Board has given away tree saplings to 5th grade students at the La Porte City Elementary School. We ordered a variety of trees (bare root stock), wrapped them individually in damp peat moss, and tied a plastic bag around them. We also ordered three large potted trees to plant at the elementary school. The plan was to plant a tree with each of the three 5th grade classes. While planting a tree with the students, we hoped to explain how to properly plant and take care of a tree. We also wanted the students to explore why it was important to plant trees.

As part of the program, we invited several guests. We had  Trees Forever field representatives, an extension service representative, and a representative from Black Hills Energy, a Trees Forever sponsor. It was a really fun event and the kids were very excited. We had the students take turns shoveling in soil, and placing mulch around the trees. The field representative took the lead in explaining how to plant the trees. She also asked the students why they thought it was important to plant trees. The students knew the answers for most of the obvious reasons for tree planting, which included landscaping, providing shade, saving energy, and to help fight the effects of global warming (carbon sequestration).

As the students were busy  mulching the first tree, a Red Oak, my thoughts began to ponder about what this tree might mean to the surrounding environment. My first  thought was birds may nest in it, and as it grew, squirrels might use it. As this tree matured and developed cavities, owls, woodpeckers, raccoons, possums, mice, snakes, weasels, bats, chipmunks, mink, frogs, and insects might also use the tree.

A Red Oak tree also produces seeds, in this case acorns. The acorns are eaten by mice, deer, wood ducks, turkeys, blue jays, raccoons, insects, wood peckers, squirrels, and chipmunks. The mice that eat the acorns are eaten by snakes, hawks, owls, coyotes, fox, raccoons, weasels, mink, skunks, bobcats, opossum, and badgers. The snake that eats the mouse is eaten by hawks, owls, other snakes, raccoons, fox, coyotes, etc. Are you beginning to see the  possible impact of planting a tree?

I have only scratched the surface. Much more could be said. So if you hear someone ask, “How can I make a difference?” tell them to plant a tree. While it is such a simple thing to do, that simple thing may result in an extra-ordinary outcome.

Planting Trees – April 17, 2013

By Leon Lindley

Phoenix

The Arabian Phoenix is a mythical bird that, according to legend, lived for five hundred years. After five hundred years, the Phoenix would burst into flames and then be reborn from the ashes. Much like nature’s renewing cycles, the Phoenix is immortal.

Bruce Child’s Access is part of a 735-acre greenbelt that runs along the Wapsipinicon River north and south of the Dunkerton area. Child’s Access had been devastated by the same tornado that went through Parkersburg in 2008. Prior to a trip there to cut and remove firewood from the tornado-ravaged area, a logging crew had gone through the access to salvage timber logs. There were scores of bare tree trunks interspersed with the occasional, undamaged tree. Discounting the brush on the ground, the upper view very much gave the impression of an area that had been swept by fire. I began to speculate how the area might look in a year, twenty-five years or a hundred years. Would the large hundred-year-old white oaks come back?  What about all the shagbark hickorys? Child’s was in such a disorder that a recovery was hard to imagine.

Like the Phoenix, Child’s Access will rise from the ruins; however, it will probably take more than a human lifetime. Nature is extremely resilient, and I suspect much of its recovery is already in place. Probably it is where many small seedlings under the destroyed canopy are waiting for opening in the forest.

There may also be some surprises. It may be the wildflowers that have been suppressed by shade, or seeds lying dormant waiting for the right conditions to spring forward.

Then there will be the changes in wildlife. New bird species will take advantage of the new under-story. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects will rush into the newly created habitats. Yes, like the Phoenix, the area will rise. It will be an exciting opportunity to watch the change. The recovery may be slow, but I think I will make it a point to walk through each year to mark the progress.

Planting Trees – March 27, 2013

By Leon Lindley

Omnivore’s Dilemna

Where does our food come from? How is it produced? Is it safe? Is it produced ethically? These are but a few questions Michael Pollan covers in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is a book about the industrial food chain and how we arrived at the current industrial model. It is well written and can be read and understood at many levels. It is an especially good read for Iowans, since much of the industrial food model begins with corn. If you read this book, you may begin to understand some of the fundamental processes of today’s agricultural juggernaut.

Here are a number of the questions that get raised. Why is the family farm all but dead or dying? Why do the public and the political leaders accept polluted rivers and poisoned land? Why is most of our meat coming from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)? Why doesn’t the government properly regulate CAFO pollution, use of antibiotics and inhumane treatment of animals? Why is the current industrial food model making Americans obese? Why is industrial agriculture so heavily subsidized and why is bigger favored over better? Why is bacteria such a problem on the feedlot and how does the push for irradiation factor in? Are there good alternatives to the way we produce our food? Is cheap food really cheap? What are the hidden costs?

If you have a desire to understand these questions, I can strongly recommend this book. If you want to begin thinking about alternatives to pollution, to unhealthy foods, to unethically raised meat, I also recommend this book. If you simply want to become better informed so as to make good choices, I also recommend this book.

Planting Trees – March 20, 2013

By Leon Lindley

“How high’s the water, mama?  Six feet high and rising.”

 Many of you may recognize the title line as an old Johnny Cash tune. In this case, I’m using it as a metaphor for what is happening with the Earth’s most pressing environmental problem, population growth. There are several good books that address the topic. One of the books is by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, One with Nineveh. It deals with pressing environmental problems, while Edward O. Wilson’s book, The Diversity of Life, makes the case it all starts with the problem of overpopulation.

When I was born in 1950, there were 2.5 billion people on planet Earth, by the year 2000 that figure had risen to 6.1 billion people. If I were to live to be hundred years old, the human population is estimated to reach 8.9 billion, with a peak later in the century at around 10 billion. Whether you’re talking about global warming, deforestation, air pollution, water pollution or extinction, it is all exacerbated by the population problem.

What makes it interesting with politicians is that the problem of overpopulation is not even on their radar. Our way of life and the very existence of the planet may be threatened and no politician is even talking about it.

Another side to the population problem is consumption. In the world of free market globalization the promise is that everyone will be lifted to the life style of the United States. It is an empty promise; there are not enough resources on the plant for everyone to live our lifestyle. According to Mathis Wackeragel and William Rees, authors of Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing the Human Impact on the Earth, it would take two more planets like the Earth to provide the resources to bring the rest of the planet up to our standard of living.

The time for change is short. Our children or our grandchildren will go through what Edward O Wilson calls the “bottleneck” (population peak). When these children understand what’s coming, they may be asking “How high’s the water, mama?”

 “The tide of earth’s population is rising, the reservoir of earth’s resources is falling.”  (Fairfield Osborne, 1948)