Trees heal a cracked heart

My heart is cracked and my head hurts – the catastrophe in Japan, floods, the grinding despair of the economic crisis, the cardboard sign I found on the sidewalk outside the liquor store: Nam-Vet, Need Help, God Bless. When the skies are gray and the north wind cuts to the bone at the butt end of winter, I think about escaping, running to my secret places. Places where I feel grounded and nurtured, uplifted and hopeful.

Usually those places are spots where remarkable trees have for centuries gathered in the world’s hurts, the sun’s warmth, and the wind’s fury and soared. I long to stand in their presence and embrace these grand old souls. Some of my sanctuary trees include the General Sherman Sequoia in Yosemite National Park, the great banyan tree in front of the courthouse at Lahaina, Maui’s old whaling town, and the Muir Woods’ Cathedral Grove.

Banyan tree at Lahaina

General Sherman Sequoia
Yosemite National Park

 With the coming of National Arbor Day in the United States — the last Friday in April — I think about planting trees – oaks, dogwood, tulip trees and Japanese maple. The Arbor Day Foundation calls planting a tree an “act of optimism and kindness, a labor of love, and a commitment to stewardship.” While National Arbor Day, is observed at the end of April, several states, including California, observe the holiday at a time best suited for tree planting for their residents.

If you want to join me in planting a tree this spring, one that might whisper peace and comfort in coming years to passersby, start by making sure you’re planting the right tree in the right place. A tree serves many purposes beyond solace. It’s wise to first determine which functions are most important to you. The main functions of a tree are:

• Shade – Trees are an excellent source for cooling because not only do they block the rays of the sun, they add water to the air through transpiration. Plant where you want the shadow during the hottest time of the year.

• Beauty – Trees add color, which often occurs seasonally, and can enhance your home depending on where it’s planted.

• Windbreak – Trees are most effective when planted in a dense, step-like arrangement of both conifers and deciduous trees.

• Boundaries — Trees can help delineate property or create a shelter.

Once you determine the tree’s function, the National Arbor Foundation suggests you consider these things when picking out a spot to plant:

• Short flowering trees are ideal planted under power lines. Some examples of short flowering trees are redbuds, dogwoods and crabapples.

• Large deciduous trees are best used to shade your home and yard. These trees should be planted on the southeast, southwest and west side of your home to provide cooling shade in the summer and won’t obstruct the low winter sun. Examples of large shade trees are maples, oaks, spruce and many pine species.

• To slow strong winter winds, many people use evergreen trees, but large deciduous trees work well, too. Windbreaks should be planted on the north side of your home, a fair distance from the nearest structure. Spruce, firs and pine trees make fine windbreaks.

Before you plant, you should also discover which trees grow best. Consult the Arbor Day Foundation’s Hardiness Zone Map at, or contact a local nursery or arborist to find out which trees grow best.

Once you’ve determined the function of your tree and which species you’d like, you’re ready to plant. You must take special care of your tree during planting time to ensure that it will grow healthy and strong.

When planting a containerized tree, there are six steps you need to take.

1. Call before you dig. Call the 811 hotline to have underground utilities located.

2. Handle your tree with care. Always lift it up by its root ball and keep its roots moist until you plant it.

3. Dig the proper hole. Dig 2 to 5 times wider than the diameter of the root ball with sloping sides.

4. Dig to the proper depth. The trunk flare of your tree should sit slightly above ground level.

5. Back fill the hole with native soil. That is, unless the soil is all clay (a problem in my yard). Tamp soil gently to fill large air spaces.

6. Mulch your new tree. Add 2-3 inches of mulch around the planting area but keep it 1-2 inches away from the trunk.

Planting instructions for bare-root trees and ball and burlap trees can be found at

The Arbor Day Foundation is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees, with more than 1 million members and supporters. The Foundation planted and distributed 14 million trees last year alone.

To find your own sacred places, check author Star Weiss’ book Havens in a Hectic World: Finding Sacred Places (TouchWood Editions, Spring, 2008). Available online at

Yosemite National Park’s massive giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) live in three groves in the park. The most easily accessible of these is the Mariposa Grove near the park’s South Entrance, off of the Wawona Road (Highway 41). Two smaller—and less visited—groves are the Tuolumne and Merced groves near Crane Flat. The Mariposa Grove contains about 500 mature giant sequoias. To get there: Use the two-mile Mariposa Grove Road, which is open from approximately April through November.

With necks-turned-straight-up, grove visitors often ask: “How old is that tree?” So, just how long can certain Yosemite tree species live? Whitebark pine, Western juniper and Douglas-fir can live more than 1,000 years while giant sequoias can live more than 3,000 years.

MUIR WOODS NATIONAL MONUMENT. This stand of coast redwoods, the only trees of this species in the National Park System, was given to the nation by Congressman William Kent and his wife. Kent refused President Theodore Roosevelt’s offer to name the park after himself, asking instead that it be named in honor of the famous naturalist John Muir.

Published by Kate Campbell

Writer, editor, photographer, novelist, short story writer, poet.

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