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You can reduce your negative impact on Earth: Susannah Gal

Posted 4/25/18

“A tree planted, and with it, us.”

That’s how I began a poem I wrote for my then-fiance, Hilton Baxter, when we planted a tree in Rock Creek Park near Washington, D.C. We chose …

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You can reduce your negative impact on Earth: Susannah Gal

Susannah Gal’s younger daughter, Katrin Baxter, stands on a 235-year-old stump in Binghamton, New York, in September 2014.
Susannah Gal’s younger daughter, Katrin Baxter, stands on a 235-year-old stump in Binghamton, New York, in September 2014.
Posted

“A tree planted, and with it, us.”

That’s how I began a poem I wrote for my then-fiance, Hilton Baxter, when we planted a tree in Rock Creek Park near Washington, D.C. We chose to plant a cherry tree because, one sunny spring day, we were having lunch in a neighborhood (near where I worked at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland) that was filled with cherry trees. That day we proposed to each other as the trees were bursting with blossoms. That has such happy memories and is partly why we tried to extend those memories by planting that tree.

We have planted trees in other public spaces where we’ve lived in the past as well. As I’ve written before, my husband and I lived in Basel, Switzerland, for four years early in our marriage. For part of that time, Hilton played organ for a small church in Biel-Benken, a farming community near Basel. When we were preparing to leave that church, we gave them a tree to plant in their little cemetery next to the church. We went back several years later to try to find it as we hadn’t been there when the planting happened. Luckily, the minister could show us where it was.

We also spent a year in Neuchatel, Switzerland, when I had a sabbatical from Binghamton University. We joined a small church just a few blocks from our apartment and gave them a tree when we returned to the United States.

Before moving to Binghamton, New York, we lived in East Lansing, Michigan, and planted a cherry tree at the church we attended for several years. And in Binghamton, the cherry tree we planted was in the front yard of our house, open for many people in the neighborhood to enjoy for its color in the spring.

It’s also clear that others find planting trees regularly an important part of their gift to the world. We lived in a house in Binghamton that had a backyard with several evergreen trees of different sizes. We found out from the former owners that they used to plant their Christmas trees every year back there. What a wonderful way to give back to the Earth and provide family memories.

Our backyard area had several large oak and maple trees that provided such lovely shade in the summer when we would be on our back deck. One of the large oaks was really huge. We were very sorry that we had to cut one of those down one year when it split and threatened the power lines nearby.

The tree removal was quite an ordeal with men hanging from chains high up in the tree to trim some of the branches before they started cutting up the trunk. When they finally finished, the stump looked huge. My younger daughter and I were intrigued by the numerous rings that were present, so we decided to count them. We counted 235 rings. Amazing that that tree had “seen” so much of the region’s history during its lifetime.

Trees are an essential part of our planet’s life. They, like other plants, provide the oxygen for us to breath and absorb the carbon dioxide that we exhale. Part of the challenge we are finding now is the increased production of carbon dioxide from cars and factories isn’t being absorbed by the plants and trees on our planet, so this greenhouse gas is building up.

It doesn’t help that people cut down lots of trees in many parts of the world to make way for more people or for farms to feed our growing population.

Arbor Day is a holiday often celebrated in April where people are encouraged to plant trees. According to Wikipedia, this holiday is celebrated in many countries in the world although depending on the climate, April may not be the best month for tree planting.

It is celebrated in Pennsylvania on the last Friday in April. You can find out more at the website for the Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org).

I found out that there’s a Jewish Arbor Day, celebrated in Israel as an ecological awareness day. This year, this day was celebrated at the end of January, which may be a good day in Israel to plant trees unlike here.

I really enjoyed hearing about the hundreds of trees planted in Lower Swatara and Londonderry townships in an article in early April.

Planting trees is one way we can be good stewards of our planet. Stewardship is a word we sometimes hear in church when they are raising money to support the mission and activities in this community. It is mentioned in the Bible as being something we humans have been asked to do with the animals and plants of this planet. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there’s a quote: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

How can we do better in our stewardship or care of the Earth? Well, planting trees, of course. Using less water in our homes and businesses is another way. I do that by rinsing dishes with as little water as possible, for example.

We can also conserve energy in our homes by turning down the heat in the winter or the air conditioning in the summer. I put on extra sweaters in the winter rather than heating the whole house to an unrealistic level.

If you are interested in learning more, I will be running a session on stewardship of planet Earth with one of my colleagues from Penn State Harrisburg, Dr. Jennifer Sliko. We will share some of our insights on the evidence for a changing climate, discuss some specific strategies on how one can reduce their negative impact on the planet and provide a worksheet for you to use to assess what you are doing in your own life.

That session will be held from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. Sunday April 29, at the Presbyterian Congregation of Middletown at the corners of Union and Water streets. It would be great to see you there!

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.