The best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago, so the saying goes. The second-best day is today.
Arbor Day and all the parties and celebrations will be observed shortly, on April 28 locally, and although the date varies by location, or more spherically, climate, it’s often viewed as the opening day of the planting season. In most of these United States, National Arbor Day is the last Friday of April.
Our friends to the north in Canada celebrate the day in mid-May. Curiously, Mexico, much closer to the Equator, celebrates Arbor Day on July 2nd. Even more baffling is Australia, which marks Arbor Day in the middle of June, which is also the beginning of winter for most of the Land Down Under. But then there aren’t all that many trees in Australia to begin with.
In Nebraska, Arbor Day is an oﬃcial holiday, though my cursory research could find no evidence of retail stores being closed. That means retail employees of Nebraska being forced to be away from their families on Arbor Day in the name of corporate profits!
My first celebration of Arbor Day was when I was in Hillview School in Pequannock. At that time, the land on which the school stood was not very far removed from being farmland and an orchard. We all participated in the planting of a tree on the front lawn of the school, which had just barely started sprouting any grass.
Our principal, Mrs. Turner, called each of the classes one-by-one to the excavation that would be the home of the new tree. I was in first grade at the time, and even though I believe I was a child of reasonable brain, my idea of planting a tree was far different from this reality.
When I heard the word “tree,” I pictured the oak tree in my childhood backyard. Every tree I was familiar with at the time had never changed size during my entire brief lifetime. So I was really fascinated by the thought of seeing my interpretation of a tree being planted in front of my school. There was the hole, but where was the tree?
Mrs. Turner announced that our school’s custodian, Mr. Kennedy, would now place the tree in the hole. That thing? It’s a twig! It was barely taller than me. I was expecting a tree. A TREE! Like the one in my backyard. A tree that would require a crane to lower it into the hole.
I asked Mrs. Turner, and she explained that trees grow up like we do. And then she told me it was my turn to take the shovel and add some dirt to the hole.
Mrs. Turner told us how important trees were to our environment, a concern rarely articulated at the time. She asked that we all remember how we had a hand in planting that little tree, and that we should always look after it as it grows.
And now, more than 50 years later, that skinny, little sprig is older, taller and wider. And so is the tree. And I’d like to think we’re both a bit wiser, too.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.