by Sergeant Joyce Kilmer
165th Infantry (69th New York), A.E.F.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose lovely mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
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.
Sergeant Kilmer was killed in action in France during World War I. I came across this gem of a poem in a small volume that I have in one of my overcrowded bookcases. Books are in abundance in my house, and I can not imagine the day when this will be a bad thing.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking and writing about trees lately. On the day after the Fourth of July holiday, a parking lot expansion began at the office building I work in. Where I work and who is expanding the parking lot has been conspicuously absent from the writing I’ve done, because I’m more interested in the global ramifications of this act than I am in calling anybody out. There’s no point in doing that, it seems to me.
But gone are the days when somebody can cut down trees and nothing can be done about it. Pictures and words can be created, and have been in this space. The silent complicity that a pre-internet age provided for still exists, in large part. I feel like the loss of at least 65 trees (and I think it’s even more than that, but we can’t know for sure) has been my own private talking point. But somebody should speak up and say something about it. So here I go.
After I took some photos of the trees as they were coming down, and as they were laying on the ground, I wrote about it in this space. Then, once I got the words the way I wanted, I posted them online, and shared them with my company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) office.
My employer leases space in the building that is expanding their parking lot, so the work is not being done by them or at their direction. However, I pointed out to them that this work does affect their environmental impact, and as such they should be aware of it. I don’t whether it was reported by the building’s management that the parking lot expansion would directly lead to the loss of 65 trees. But it has now been reported, one way or the other.
The building I work in has LEED certification, and in order to preserve that, the building management needs to follow guidelines which, as I understand it, call for a 1:1 replacement of the trees that have been cut down. I received an email from my company’s CSR office, stating that such replacements were being planned for, and that 52 trees were going be replaced as a result.
This figure did not square with the tree stumps that I counted, by walking around the parking lot and putting my shoe on each one myself. Accepting their number of 52 trees would result in a shortfall of more than a dozen trees for the planet that I and my colleagues (and you, my most esteemed reader) all inhabit. And quite frankly, that’s more of a loss than we can take. This planet needs to have more trees, not fewer.
I sent an email to my company’s facilities manager, and copied the CSR office, stating that 52 tree replacements would not be enough to offset the trees that have been lost already. I stated, and I continue to believe, that a 1:1 replacement rate is inadequate for replacing larger, more mature trees with smaller tree saplings. Big trees give off more oxygen, offer more shade, and take more pollutants out of the air. Common sense suggests that, if anything, more trees will be needed, especially since all of the new blacktop parking lot that will go where the trees once stood will be another environmental loss. But greater minds than mine have come up with these replacement guidelines, so I’ll accept them for what they’re worth.
My email was forwarded on to the building’s management, who claimed to be unaware of the claim of 52 trees being replaced. Whether that’s true or not, the lowball number would work to their benefit, as it would save them the cost of replacing an additional 13 trees. But beyond that, it was stated by the building’s managment that some of the trees were older, and thus not as vibrant as they appeared, and that some of the other trees had ash borer concerns and would have to be brought down anyway. But these seemed to be reasons meant to justify cutting down trees, without needing to replace them afterwards.
I suggested to my company’s facilities director that we should look at how many trees the contractor has billed for removal, and use that figure to determine what the building management’s replacement responsibilities are. After all, a tree removal contractor is not going to simply write off a tree that it removes, on the basis that there are issues with whether the tree is productive anymore. No, a tree is a tree is a tree for them, and if the building paid to have an ash borer tree removed, it seems right to replace it with another tree, anyway.
I know the expectation is that I, the tree-hugger, will accept this explanation and quiet down about it. But I live here, not on their property, but on the planet earth. Planting 13 additional new trees, and possibly even more than that, will help us all out, in the long run. I plan to follow through on this, to make sure that our collective home is given the consideration that it is entitled to receive.