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Planting A Bur Oak

The other parents and I were getting off the school bus, when I heard a comment that I thought would be the start of an argument. We had been shuttled upriver to retrieve our vehicles and the canoe trailer after spending the morning paddling downstream. One dad was mocking another: “Are you sure your truck is big enough? Maybe you need something bigger.” The truck in question was as big as they come. It had after-market tires and a lift kit, which meant that a sort of jump step was required to reach the door. 

The grade school parking lot is usually a sea of contrasts whenever parents are on site, with large trucks parked next to electric cars or hybrid minivans. Vehicle choices are often linked to the owner’s line of work, but in our area they can also signal political commitments. Given how infrequently we parents talk with each other, it wasn’t hard to imagine that a comment about someone’s vehicle choice might spark a debate. So, the afternoon of the grade five canoe excursion, I expected a heated recitation of the usual entrenched talking points. 

Nobody disagreed with that assessment, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation. 

This time, though, the tired debate didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because the two parents knew each other better than they had let on and because we had just shared a morning doing something we all loved. Getting kids on the river, dodging rocks and counting blue herons. We had shared a sense of awe at seeing an eagle watch us from atop a white pine tree. And as the school bus drove us back to where we had left our vehicles, we had agreed that the stretch of river was beautiful. There were no road crossings for kilometers and the trees . . . . “The trees down here are wonderful,” one of the parents had said, as we watched the screen of green slide by the bus windows. Nobody disagreed with that assessment, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation. 

As I thought about the excursion afterward, I was reminded of a similar sense of comradery I had experienced a month or so before. It was when a local high school class had partnered with the nature conservation authority to plant trees in the reclaimed forest on the edge of town. The removal of dozens and dozens of dead ash trees the previous winter had created a lot of open space. The tree planting initiative was so well supported with volunteers that what was expected to take more than four hours was completed in less than one. 

Planting trees and other native plants, especially the right species in the right places, is an investment in a future that transcends the current political chasm.

As a conservationist, I know that there are many legitimately difficult decisions elected officials need to make about environmental policy. Significant amounts of money are involved, as well as jobs and differing visions of the good life. Though nature conservation was once a relatively bi-partisan issue in both the US and Canada, it’s not so much any longer. Political identities even make it hard for us to read the Bible well on these issues. Nevertheless, regardless of political affiliation or the type of car we drive (or don’t drive), many of us share a love for places—for rivers, lakes, shorelines, forests, grasslands, urban pocket parks or rural vistas. We share a love for certain experiences too—paddling a stretch of relatively undeveloped river or hearing songbirds in the park in the early morning. 

We also share the sense of satisfaction from being able to do something that helps. I know that some people within the conservation community are wearied by the keenness of volunteers to plant trees. It’s a weariness that comes from the fact that some habitats aren’t well-suited for trees, from the impatience some groups have for planting trees well, and from the comparative difficulty of finding volunteer help for other conservation projects. Even so, there is something to be gained from empowering community members to care for the local ecology and to steward the future of the places they love. The more real and tangible the better. 

Planting a bur oak is a deeply political act, but not a partisan one. Planting trees and other native plants, especially the right species in the right places, is an investment in a future that transcends the current political chasm. The delight we take in God’s creation doesn’t depend one bit on our political stripes. It depends on our moral openness to consider the lives of other creatures and the openness of our souls to awe and wonder. Getting outside with others, putting a spade in the ground, maybe working to restoring a waterway or a bit of forest—in these kinds of actions there is hope and future we can share.   

This opportunity presented by A Rocha Ontario allows local businesses, community organizations and passionate individuals to benefit nature right here in our home area. For those who want to do more than just ‘not harm’ nature, a contribution of $20 sponsors the planting of a native species critical to nature’s health in Southern Ontario.

Photo by Pixabay:

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