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Arbor Day Reflection: I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a clean kitchen counter

I’ve argued that it’s OK to use paper plates, that the trees used are planted specifically for that purpose and wouldn’t exist otherwise.

This year I will mark Arbor Day (Friday, April 29) by actively refusing to celebrate the holiday instead of by completely overlooking it, as has been my custom.

Why? Well, my wife and I have this dynamic going where, in the morning, she serves our son’s Cheerios and her own yogurt mush in our plastic or ceramic bowls, which the two of them leave, unwashed, on the kitchen counter and which, unless I rinse out, I have to look at all day because I often work at home. So I ask her to please – for me – use the paper bowls and plates I buy so I can simply toss out the messes. She says no, she won’t. I ask why.

“Trees,” she answers.

We used to live in New York City where, along the streets, each tree has its own ankle-high fence. Some trees get adopted by couples who devote weekend afternoons to gardening in the little squares of filth, planting flowers and shrubs and erecting scolding signs asking dog owners to please curb their pets so as to preserve the fragile ecosystem. I’ve even seen grown adults weeping as they watched municipal workers chainsaw dead or dying trees, and saying things like “it’s like losing an old friend.”

And I get it. Really. But living as my family does now, in the Berkshire Hills, should be enough, in my opinion, to change a reasonable person’s perspective about trees. There are an awful lot of trees around here. In fact, from many a vantage point, there might be – in every direction one looks and as far as the eye can see – nothing but trees. I myself take care of more than a dozen trees on our property, and help tend to at least that many more neighbors’ trees with branches that overhang our yard. And don’t get me started on how I labor to care for the shrubbery, lawns, vegetables, and houseplants, which my wife says she doesn’t water “because you do it better.” (Actual quote.)

I feel I do my part for the flora. I’ve argued that it’s OK to use paper plates, that the trees used are planted specifically for that purpose and wouldn’t exist otherwise, that mighty sequoias are not being felled nor rain forests denuded so that portly Americans can enjoy their Coca-Colas in Dixie Cups. I point out that a piece of wood that is 8 feet x 4 feet x 4 feet has been estimated to yield 1,000 – 2,000 pounds of paper, in the scheme of things a modest amount of timber that would surely be enough to keep a family of three in paper plates for decades, if not longer. “Why can’t you do this for me?” I ask my wife.

She says only: “Trees.”

So I was reading through a junior atlas with my son, and came across a graph titled “Holiday Evergreens.” It lists annual Christmas tree production in the top five states: Oregon – 6,900,000 trees; North Carolina -1,900,000 trees; Michigan -1,500,000 trees; Pennsylvania – 1,200,000 trees; and Wisconsin -1,000,000 trees. About 12,500,000 trees (I’m noticing that you get yourself even more worked up if you type out all the zeroes) harvested each year from just the five states listed so that people have something on which to hang lights and tinsel for a few weeks each winter.

This is not even to mention the stunning bit of news that came out in 2015, captured in this headline: “Earth has EIGHT times more trees than first thought: Scientists discover there are 422 for every person on the planet.”

And yet Albert Stern’s kitchen counter each morning is strewn with bowls of soggy Cheerios and yogurt mush that nobody cleans up even after he has asked, repeatedly, that his family use paper bowls so he can just throw the messes in the garbage and be done with it. “I know how much you care about the trees,” I plead, “but don’t I count for something, too? Paper bowls – one, maybe two a day is all you’d use. Please. For me.”

But, no. Because trees.

Happy Arbor Day.


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