“We have underestimated the importance of trees. … they are a near miracle,” wrote Jim Robbins in a fascinating piece, “Why Trees Matter,” which ran last week in the Opinion section of the New York Times. I knew trees were important to our ecosystem, but I had no idea how critical—and extensive—a role they played in maintaining our planet’s balance. Mr. Robbins explains how trees remove toxins from our water, filter air pollution, release beneficial chemicals, and provide a heat shield. Decomposing leaves leach acids into our oceans, helping fertilize plankton; when plankton thrives, so does the rest of the food chain. A near miracle indeed.
When we first purchased our mostly wooded land, we felt we’d assumed a temporary guardianship. Each year we have planted new trees and taken down sick, dead, or overcrowded trees (which have in turn provided us with firewood and forest creatures with food and habitat). Clearing trees lets in more light, making the remaining trees stronger and healthier. In some cases we swapped out species of trees: to enable our fruit trees to grow, we took down some birch, ash, maple and pine trees.
In the woods we have watched nature’s own culling system. Two storms cleared out an area so dense that most of the trees were weak. The stronger trees still stand and they will probably thrive with their new-found space and sunlight.
Over the decades (and centuries) past owners have planted beautiful trees, like the stand of stately birches as you approach the house, and the classically shaped maple in the center of the yard. I doubt the owners had the pleasure of seeing these trees grow to full magnificence in their own lifetime, but I am thankful they thought of the generations ahead. We are doing the same; at the end of the month we will plant new trees for the future.