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Trees for tomorrow.

LONG BEFORE I EVER READ the likes of Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau or Wendell Berry, I was fascinated with trees. It might have been that they were really scarce in North Dakota, or that I loved the way the cottonwoods growing down along the Missouri smelled. It could have been that my fall-collected bur oak acorns sprouted roots and leaves the year I forgot to dry them out. Perhaps it was that my ancestors made a business of supplying millions of seedlings to shield railroad cuts from blowing snow and to help slow topsoil losses on the Northern Plains during the Dust Bowl days. Whatever the reason, I continue to struggle each spring with a compulsion to plant trees--lots of trees.

In the late 1980s, I succumbed to the Soil Conservation Service's (SCS) siren song in Lincoln County, South Dakota. The volume discount was phenomenal, and the government's machine-planting crew came cheap. The SCS cost-share was 75 percent that spring, so we went with a 2,000-foot-long five-row shelterbelt that included lilac, locust, green ash, Russian olive and Colorado blue spruce. Conservation service guidelines noted that to be in compliance, I had to keep the tree rows black (clear of any competing vegetation) for a minimum of three years, to give those thousands of 8- to 12-inch-tall seedlings a fighting chance.

Two years after installing that first shelterbelt, I planted a couple of others to shield our house from the west and to protect our lane from drifting in. Manchurian apricot, Nanking cherry, Amur maple and buffalo berry were all up to the task. I also transplanted scores of volunteer cottonwood seedlings (from the low end of our pasture) to stabilize the bank where the creek arced through the yard. In 1996, when I bid those trees farewell, melancholy as it was, I knew that the planting was well worth the enjoyment they would bring to future generations.

Now, nearly two decades later, I still transplant trees around my Osage County, Kansas, farm. Those free cedars make great dust control barriers where the yard is a little too exposed to the road. And those red and bur oaks have nicely filled in the empty area where 1 had to cut out several borer-killed pines. Then there's that urge to stick dormant cottonwood branches into the ground--and watch them grow into decent sized trees almost overnight.

I have no illusions that I will see all of my late-life plantings reach the grandeur of their maturity. The joy continues to be in putting seedlings in the ground, documenting their advances from one year to the next, and knowing that those who walk this land long after I am gone will have plenty of shade, wind protection and fuel to carry them through another generation.

Whether you're planting trees and gardens or building ponds and barns, I'd love to know what you're up to this season. Please send me a note and a photo or two (jpeg, at least 300 dpi), if available, at, and the whole works may just wind up in a future issue. See you in May, Hanh

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Title Annotation:Our View
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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