Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 23, 2013

John Cannon: A constant reminder of Arbor Day: 4/24/13

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — I confess that for most of my life Arbor Day has been one of those holidays I have been most likely to forget. It ranked somewhere below Groundhog Day, Columbus Day and Presidents Day as special days worthy of celebration.

I didn’t hate Arbor Day, but then neither did I love it. In fact, I had no feelings at all about the holiday. I was indifferent.

But times change. Now every time I mow my yard or even sit in the yard, I think of Arbor Day. That’s because of a little redbud seedling my wife got from the Ashland Tree Board’s annual Arbor Day tree seedling giveaway a few years back.

At the time, we had just been forced to take down a huge oak tree that had been proudly standing in our back yard for at least 100 years before it was our back yard. Dead branches high in the tree were threatening to come down onto our house and onto the homes of our neighbors. Thus, we spent $4,000 to have it professionally taken down.

The demise of that tree completely changed our back yard from an area that was always in the shade to one that basks in the sunlight for most of the day. That forced my wife, a certified Master Gardener, to completely change the plants growing there with the help of yours truly, an uncertified digger of holes.

It also created the need for another tree in our yard, and having learned about the Tree Board’s upcoming seedling giveaway in celebration of Arbor Day, my wife promised to go by the park to pick up a tree for our rather barren-looking back yard. I thought that was a great idea, and I requested she get a redbud, because we had had a beautiful redbud in another part of our yard that had died and I had been forced to cut down.

I loved that redbud and I was eager to replace it. But the tiny sapling my wife returned from Central Park with looked about as much like a redbud tree as I look like Brad Pitt. Just as about the only similarity between Pitt and me is we are both male, the only similarity between our late great redbud and that seedling my wife had picked up to replace it is they were both trees.

Nevertheless, knowing my role in tending to our yard was limited to mowing, raking and digging holes, I dutifully dug a hole where my wife had determined the tree should go and planted the seedling. To be honest, it didn’t look much like a tree. Instead, it looked like someone had come along and stuck a stick into the ground for no apparent reason.

I didn’t have much faith in the long-term survival of that little seedling. After all, over the years, my wife and I had not had much luck with planting trees. When we were first married and owned six acres of land in Tennessee, we got the bright idea  we would purchase a live Christmas tree each year and then after the holiday plant the tree in our yard. We envisioned having a tree to remind us of each Christmas, and we both agreed the trees would make a great Christmas tradition.  

And they would have. Except our first three trees died because of the harsh winters of 1976-77, 1977-78 and 1978-79. Even before we moved to Ashland in early 1979, we had decided our Christmas tree tradition was a flop. A few years later we purchased an artificial tree we just used for our 27th consecutive Christmas. It’s not the same as planting a Christmas tree each winter, but it’s a lot cheaper.

But I digress. That little stick I planted in our back yard on that Arbor Day stands about 20 feet high and is growing at a rapid rate. As I mowed the yard Saturday, I realized for the first time I did not have to duck when I mowed around the tree. The tree now sprouts beautiful red buds each year.

Friday is Arbor Day and Tree Board members and students from Ashland Community and Technical College will be in Central Park beginning at 12:30 p.m. distributing seedlings. This year there will be Eastern redbud, hazelnut, river birch, mulberry, cypress, silky dogwood, black walnut and chestnut seedlings.

I won’t be stopping by to pick up a seedling because we don’t have room for another tree in our yard. But if you think the seedling you select looks a bit hopeless, plant it and see what happens. If you are like me, you will be pleasantly surprised.

It’s like I always say, you can never judge a tree by its seedling. (Actually, I have never said that, but I needed a way to end this column.)