Your Earth

Friday, May 23, 2003

Long before they understand about calendars and weeks and months, children mark the passage of time by the changing of the seasons. Santa comes when the snow begins to fall, Halloween happens when pumpkins appear at roadside stalls and the school year ends when it's too hot to learn.

When they were little, my husband Brian taught our two boys, both May babies, that their birthdays would arrive when the leaves came back on the trees. This idea particularly fascinated our oldest son, Matthew. As a young child, Matthew would begin watching the trees as soon the snow had melted, waiting for the very first buds of life to appear.

"Is it my birthday, yet?" Matthew would ask his Dad.

"Are the leaves back on the trees, son?" Brian would reply.

This lovely ritual has played itself out, year after year, until this May, when Matthew celebrated his 18th birthday that marks the arbitrary passage into adulthood. With this passage has come Matthew's decision to join the army, making this year's ritual of waiting for the leaves to come back on the trees a particularly poignant one.

While Brian and I are unsure about the wisdom of Matthew's decision, we recognize that it is his decision to make. And so this past weekend, as we lay on our backs and watched the tiny buds sprouting on the branches above our heads, I thought about Matthew's chosen path and the return of spring. I was reminded once again of how closely the passages that we mark in our lives are echoed in the world around us.

Sunday was a particularly beautiful day. The sky was crystal clear, and after an afternoon of gardening, we gathered on the lawn before dinner to enjoy the sun's warmth and each other's company. We sat under the protective canopy of three large elm trees that my husband's father planted almost fifty years ago after Hurricane Hazel destroyed their predecessors. When the boys were little we hung a swing from one of the trees. Matthew in particular loved being pushed up into the mighty branches of the tree, where thousands of leaves would tickle him.

"Push me up into the leaves, Daddy!" Matthew would squeal with delight.

As I sat looking up into the trees on Sunday, I realized that while I am impressed at their tremendous girth, what amazes me most is the tiny branches at their tips. It is this new fragile growth that reaches the furthest and extends the life of the trees into the heavens above. It was these branches that sparkled most in the afternoon sun, dancing lightly in the breeze and capturing my heart.

Like our children, trees are magnificent gifts of creation that enrich our lives beyond comprehension. Their magnificent canopies reduce the heat of a summer's day and provide shelter and warmth from the winter's wind. Trees are the lungs of the planet, providing life-giving oxygen and absorbing the carbon dioxide that threatens the very stability of our climate. They are sanctuaries for the human spirit and provide a compact between generations. Like our children, trees keep us rooted to the ground and yet they encourage us to look skyward to the heavens and to possibilities we can only imagine.


In one year, a single tree can offset the carbon dioxide produced by a car driving 41,600 kilometers. In addition, trees also filter toxic pollutants from the air with their leaves and from ground water with their roots. Three trees strategically planted around your home can reduce heating costs 10 to 30 percent, and cooling costs by 10 to 50 percent. To find out more about environmental and economic value of trees, visit the following websites:

Domtar - the paper people - have a great website for children about the wonderful world of trees. Visit

Most people can name their province's official flower, but did you know that each province and territory has its own tree, too? To find out more, visit the Canadian Forestry Association's website at

The Global Forest Science website offers a comprehensive guide to the most common trees of Canada. Go to

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