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Autumn in February

Food For Thought

One day last month, I stepped out my door and was disoriented by smells more suited to October than to February. This was the aroma of Halloween, leaf-burning, fall picnics from my childhood. Okay, so it has been a strange winter in our little pocket of the Midwest. Little snow, mostly mild temperatures, 40 degree drops and rises of the thermometer from one day to the next. But those autumn bonfires emitting that smoky, woodsy fragrance? What was going on?
As I drove down our lane, I caught a glimpse of smoke rising over the hill to my right. No buildings there, I knew no fire alarm was needed. Must be someone burning a brush pile. Farmers used to accumulate brush and tree trimmings for a year or two before burning. Good place to shoot a few rabbits. But then, who hunts rabbits these days? How many families eat fried rabbit for dinner a couple times a month as we once did every winter? Who even knows how to cook one?
No, this was a different kind of fire. For months, there have been backhoes and bulldozers rearranging the landscape in this vicinity. There have been flatbed trailers loaded with valuable logs of walnut, oak and maple. There have been shady fence rows and brush-filled gullies denuded of vegetation, and several of those long-burning fires getting rid of the stumps and trimmings – the “useless” parts of what were once homes for birds and squirrels, cover for deer, rabbits and a few returning pheasants, as well as hunting grounds for owls, hawks and other predators.
Yes, most of the wildlife will survive. They’ll adapt, relocate, find new habitat, new hunting grounds. But what about the trees? I realize trees are also a crop, but not one that can be planted and harvested in one growing season. It takes about 50 years to grow a harvestable size hardwood log, and while that is happening, the tree serves a number of other valuable purposes.
One of our environmental concerns is we don’t have enough trees to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere. Whether happy coincidence or divine plan, it doesn’t matter, but the fact plants use carbon dioxide and manufacture oxygen holds the possible solution to the unbalance that is causing our environment to become less suitable for the sustenance of animal life– and that includes us humans.
Some time ago, I learned seven mature trees per person are needed to keep the balance at a safe level. This would take care of the carbon dioxide we breathe out, as well as our estimated share of that produced by burning fossil fuels to run our automobiles, produce our electricity, and power our factories. Other plants respire oxygen as well, but trees are by far the stars of the show.
Judging from personal observation, I can only take a wild stab at estimating how many trees were removed from this relatively small segment of Graham Township, but I’m guessing around a thousand. Not all produced saleable, lumber-quality logs, but even the “junk” trees did their share providing habitat and helping clean the air we breathe. That’s 143 people who have suddenly been deprived of the clean air those trees once provided. Who is going to replace those trees? And where will those people get their clean air while they wait out the years for replacement trees to reach maturity and produce their full share of oxygen?
Are there seven mature trees on your property for each person in your family? If you live in town, probably not. If you have a lot of houseplants, they might possibly put out enough oxygen for a small family pet, such as a gerbil or parakeet. If you count all the people who live in apartments and condos in any town, then count the trees in the city park and on other public property, you can see there is a definite tree shortage for those people, even supposing those who live in traditional houses all have enough trees. Seen from a distance, most of Iowa’s towns seem to be mostly trees with the occasional church spire or water tower poking up through the branches, and you would think there were plenty of trees to go around, but if you do the math you’ll find out differently.
I urge you to plant trees on your property. If you don’t have seven mature trees for each member of your family, you need to get busy. And if you move away– well, the trees will still be doing their job no matter who lives there. Don’t wait for Arbor Day, many trees can be planted at nearly any time of year. While you’re at it, plant some extra trees to help replace the 1,000 that have been destroyed here. It takes years for Mother Nature to replace what one man and a machine can destroy in an afternoon.