“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” the first line of Joyce Kilmer’s simple poem. Not sure if it’s still true but when I was in elementary school it was one of the poems I had to memorize and recite in front of my classmates. At the time, I just wanted to get it over with. The words just didn’t have any real meaning to me.
But, I’m glad I was forced to memorize Kilmer’s poem, which it seems, once learned is never forgotten. Now as I amble the roads of Martha’s Vineyard with a canopy of trees overhead, I am renewed by nature’s beauty and by Kilmer’s words. Favorite lines from the poem come back to me, “A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray.”
It’s taken me a while to grasp fully, that beyond poetic beauty, trees play so many vital roles — regulating carbon emissions, acting as a natural coolant, and stemming floodwaters. Global warming has helped me understand the compelling environmental reasons, and the urgent need in planting and maintaining trees. That was the driving force behind the 2007 pledge by former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who along with city organizers, promised to plant 100,000 trees by the year 2020. The plan would have increased what’s known as the city’s canopy by 20 percent. But not only did the increase not happen, during the ensuing years Boston has actually lost tree cover to disease, removal by construction, and a lack of caretaking. Most importantly, there has not been the political interest.
Trees are plentiful in my neighborhood — I’m lucky they are right outside my window, and all along my neighborhood streets and in the parks. But that is not what it looks like in many Boston communities, which would have benefitted from the long overdue tree planting.
During a recent hearing, Boston City Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Matt O’Malley highlighted the long-term impact of both the failed tree planting pledge and the uneven distribution of trees. Pressley, who is also a candidate for Congress, calls it “tree equity” and is passionate about the neighborhoods, which have no trees standing against climate change, citing East Boston as a prime example. Boston is nowhere near making the original tree-planting deadline by 2020, and there is now support for a 2030 goal. And there is a move to design a consistent effort to care take old trees and nurture new ones — the only way to assure their survival.
Kilmer ended his poem writing, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” That may well be true, but only we here on earth can make sure the trees get planted.
Maybe Boston will be inspired by its long running competitiveness with New York — a city that started its tree planting plan the same year as Boston but finished two years before its 2017 deadline.