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Celebrate Arbor Day

 Cottonwood tree fills the front yard of a northern New Mexico home.

Arbor Day is approaching. It's a day in which the Arbor Day Foundation encourages people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Arbor Day Foundation CEO Dan Lambe points out many positive aspects of trees.


Trees help to transform the communities in which they grow. Many people say they feel calmer and happier around trees.


"Trees are the most scalable and cost-effective tool in the fight against climate change," Lambe said in an article he wrote for Treehugger News on March 23. "Trees clean the air and vacuum up carbon. They foster biodiversity and support critical habitats."


Many animals and insects call trees home. Among them are lemurs, butterflies, bats, bears, frogs, birds and squirrels.


Trees help to make neighborhoods cooler and more comfortable in warm weather. That means people don't have to spend quite as much money keeping their homes cool in the summer.


Trees also help to improve many people's blood pressure. Their mental health improves and their creativity blossoms when they're around trees.


If trees grow near streams, rivers and irrigation ditches, they help to clean and filter the water. They play so many important roles in helping us to be healthier and happier.


In many parts of the United States, Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday of April. However, some states schedule Arbor Day at a time that better coincides with local planting times. For example, in Hawaii it's celebrated on the first Friday in November. Alaska celebrates it the third Monday in May. In New Mexico, Arbor Day is the second Friday in March. To find out when Arbor Day is in your state, visit https://www.almanac.com/content/arbor-day-history-facts-date/.


Lambe says the Arbor Day Foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees. Arbor Day is a great day for anyone who cares about trees to plant, nurture and celebrate them. After all, they do so much to help us.

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Ancient Place of Refuge in Hawaii

Hala tree growing out of lava

An interesting national historical park on the Big Island of Hawaii is one that's not easy to pronounce. I found it to be a place so relaxing that it makes you want to stay longer.


Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park provides a sense of peace, calm, and comfort to residents and park visitors. Historically, it was a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians who had broken a sacred law, found themselves on the losing side of a war, or were in other extraordinary circumstances, all of which required a death sentence.


They could get a second chance at life if they made it to the place of refuge before they were caught – and if the kahuna pule, the Hawaiian priest, absolved them. Some people managed to reach the site. Others didn't, and they paid with their lives. Those who reached the place of refuge couldn't just walk away and resume their old behaviors. They had to examine their lives, decide how they were going to change their ways, and demonstrate that they truly had turned over a new leaf.


There used to be several places of refuge in Hawaii, but they are all gone now except for the one at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. It is located off of Highway 160 on the South Kona Coast along the lava flats at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.


There are many trees, including palms, in the national historical park. One of the trees we saw was a hala tree, which grew out of lava. Its durable hala leaves were plaited into canoe sails, mats and baskets. The leaves also were used for thatching roofs. It produced large fruit, which was eaten fresh. Parts of the fruit were sometimes made into small brushes for decorating barkcloth with plant dyes.


A volunteer at the park gave a talk in the auditorium about what the place of refuge means to her and her people. She said it gave people a chance to reevaluate their lives, to make better choices, to dedicate themselves to a healthy purpose. At the end of her talk, she used her beautiful contralto voice to sing a song in Hawaiian about the place of refuge. Though I couldn't understand the words, it was clear that the song held deep meaning for her.


When I think about Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, I remember its peacefulness, its calming effect. If I ever get a chance to return to the Big Island of Hawaii, I would like to spend more time there, soaking in the healing atmosphere of the place and of its trees.


To learn more about the park, visit this website: Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov).

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Lizard on a Red Flower

Lizard sits on top of tall red flower.

When my son and I were at Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii recently, we hiked on a path that led us through lush ferns, colorful flowers and tall trees. The waterfalls in the park were beautiful, especially Akaka Falls, a freefalling waterfall. It plunges from the edge of a cliff into a pool far enough below us that we couldn't see the pool.


On the way back from the waterfall, we met a young couple who stood by a beautiful tall red flower. They were taking a picture of it. The flower reminded me of a feathered candle with large red petals at the bottom.


I asked if they knew what kind of flower it was. "We don't know," the man said. "We're taking a picture of the lizard sitting on top of it."


I looked more closely. Sure enough, a lizard basked in the sun on top of the flower. I would have missed seeing it if he hadn't pointed it out. Once the couple walked on down the trail, I took my own picture of the lizard on the flower. What an amazing sight! No matter where we find ourselves, if we connect with other people we often have a richer, more interesting experience than if we keep to ourselves.


Later, I looked through two books I bought in Hawaii. One was Native Hawaiian Plants. The other was Tropical Trees of Hawaii. I couldn't find a picture in either book that looked like the red flower. The closest I came to it was an 'Awapuhi (ah-vah-poo-hee), a shampoo ginger, that looked like it might have been the flower before it opened its petals. If anyone who reads this blog knows the identity of this flower, I would love to learn its name.

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Bent Coconut Palm

Bent coconut palm grows upright

Wind, rain, and other weather related events can be challenging for trees. After some devastating floods and hurricanes or tornadoes, we may have seen fallen trees, their roots severed from the ground. Television cameras capture pictures of the aftermath of disasters in other areas. It's hard to fathom how life changing those events can be unless you've lived through one or more of them.


In front of the beach house where my son and I stayed for eight days near Pahoa, Hawaii stood a coconut palm that looked like it might once have been blown over in a strong wind. But this palm didn't lose its attachment to the ground. Its roots tenaciously gripped the earth. Though its trunk grew sideways for a while, eventually the trunk grew tall again. This palm had several coconuts in it, a sign that it's now a healthy tree.


The owners ringed the palm with lava rocks, so abundant in that area. It's apparent they value and nurture the tree.


Like much of Hawaii, that area has seen strong winds and many lava flows from volcanic eruptions. In 2018, an eruption from the Kilauea Volcano brought lava flows precariously close to the town of Pahoa and wiped out some nearby communities.


When devastating natural disasters occur, lives can be forever altered. Communities, people, animals, trees and other plants that survive usually find a way to move forward in spite of the loss.


That's what happened in the Pahoa area. After the eruption, people got together and figured out what their neighbors needed. They found a way to provide those things. They gathered the items in buildings where people who had lost everything could restock and spend time with people who cared.


Many times when I stepped out of the lovely beach house that felt like home to us for a short time, I walked around the coconut palm and marveled at how well it adapted to whatever knocked it flat years before. It looked so healthy and productive.


It's one of many signs of hope around us that even in tough times it's possible to survive and, even, to thrive, especially when we are surrounded by people who care.

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An Experience with Grandfather Tree

 Once tall, spreading cottonwood fell after being knocked down.

For more than 40 years, I lived on land north of Aztec, NM that I shared with a tall, weather scarred cottonwood tree. Many different bird species perched in it, and a goose once laid its eggs in a cleft between two of its huge branches.


At one time, the Healing Tree seemed to be a good name for the cottonwood. There was a peacefulness about it that made people feel less stressed. In 2015, I called a young adult fantasy novel I wrote The Healing Tree. The cover bears a picture of the tall cottonwood. An artist outlined the tree with mystical looking lines to emphasize the book's fantasy focus.


Later, Grandfather Tree seemed like a better name for the tree. It had weathered many storms and survived probably more than two hundred years.


When I lived on that land, I often spent time near Grandfather Tree as I walked up and down the irrigation ditch bank. The tree sent deep roots into the soil next to a wooden bridge that crossed the ditch. I moved away almost six years ago but never forgot the cottonwood. Sometimes I would pray for it, asking that it have whatever it needed to stay healthy.


In early spring last year, I couldn't stop thinking about Grandfather Tree. It made me wonder if the tree was okay. I made a special 12-mile trip from my new home in Farmington, NM so I could drive past the tree. Its branches spread tall and wide like they had for many years. I prayed for the tree again and headed back to my new home, relieved to see that it was doing well.


This Monday, Grandfather Tree came into my mind so strongly that I couldn't stop thinking about it. On my way home from nearby Durango, Colorado, the tree continued to stay on my mind. Instead of driving on the highway on the east side of the Animas River, I drove down a county road on the west side of the river. It took me past where I used to live.


My heart sank when I saw the tree. It lay in pieces on the irrigation ditch bank. I felt devastated, as though I had lost a dear friend. What had caused the tree to fall?


I stopped at the home of former neighbors who lived two houses down from my old house. They filled me in on the details. Convinced that the old cottonwood was hollow inside and no longer safe, the irrigation ditch rider knocked the tree down last spring. I felt close to tears.


I drove back to the bridge that crossed the irrigation ditch on the property I once owned and parked at the edge of the road. Taking out my cell phone, I walked toward the wooden bridge to take pictures of the once majestic tree.


The bridge was covered with snow that could be slippery, and the neighbor had warned me that a mean dog owned by neighbors roamed free and bit people. I decided to stay close to my car, so I didn't cross the bridge to see for myself if the tree was really hollow.


I kept wondering why the tree didn't come into my mind when it was being knocked down last year. Yet, on this day, many months later, the tree wouldn't leave my thoughts. Why now? I may never know.


As I drove home, praying for the tree, I felt as though its trunk fit gently around my body, giving me a comforting hug. In my mind, the tree remains alive in spirit, and the attachment that grew between us for so many years is also very much alive.

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Trees Go Dormant in Cold Weather

Cottonwood in dormancy

Trees go dormant in the winter, kind of like hibernating. In the yard of the home where I used to live, my black walnut trees took a long time to leaf out in the spring. People who didn't know that might think they were dead. But they just stayed dormant in the spring longer than most trees.


When deciduous trees (the ones with leaves) go dormant, their metabolism and energy consumption slow down, according to an excellent article by Eileen Campbell in Treehugger News. Until I read her article, I didn't realize there were two types of dormancy.


One is called endo-dormancy. In that kind of dormancy, the trees will not grow even when they experience good, warm, growing conditions. Something inside the trees keep them from growing.


The other is called eco-dormancy. That's when the days get shorter and weather gets colder, usually below the mid-40 degrees Fahrenheit, about the time trees start to lose their leaves.


Each tree produces a chemical called abscisic acid (ABA) at the tip of the stem where the stem and the leaf connect. That acid is also produced in coniferous trees, the ones that usually have needles and pine cones. The acid temporarily stops growth. It also prevents cells from dividing. ABA helps the trees to survive in winter by reducing the amount of energy they need to produce. But even in dormancy, evergreen trees don't usually lose their needles unless they are under stress or are getting older.


If people force a tree not to go into eco-dormancy by bringing it inside where it's warmer, that reduces the tree's lifespan. To remain healthy, trees need to go dormant for a while each year.


When I see trees with bare limbs after their leaves have fallen, I am glad they are slowing down and taking a rest in the winter. I enjoy a break from gardening and other summer activities too. I will be happy to see trees start to leaf out in the spring when it gets warmer outside. That's about the time I start to think about getting my garden ready to plant!

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Exploring Your Family's Christmas Memories

My Christmas tree today

When I was looking up information on the internet about the history of Christmas trees, I came across an interesting trivia fact.


The website, https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees, revealed that "the tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122-foot, 91-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington." That caught my eye, because my niece and her family recently moved to Woodinville, a town I had never heard of until they moved there.


It made me think that an entertaining family activity might be to learn interesting facts about Christmas traditions in your family. For example, what kind of Christmas tree did your family use when you were a child? What kind of tree did your grandparents use?


When my son was in elementary school, he came home with a question. His teacher wanted all the kids to find out what kind of Christmas tree their parents had as a child.


I wasn't sure. We had grown up overseas, in the Sudan, where my parents spent several years working. When I asked her, my elderly mother said it was a sesaban tree. The closest spelling I can find to that on the internet is a sesban tree. My mother died a few years ago, so I can't ask her anything more about the tree, what it looked like, where it typically grew, or why they chose to use that kind of tree.


Information like that gets lost so easily unless someone in the family interviews parents, grandparents and other relatives and writes down what they say. When I was a child, I didn't wonder what kind of decorated Christmas tree stood in our living room. My mind was captured by all the Christmas gifts in colorful wrapping under the tree.


When I attended college in Kansas, I found a tumbleweed and brought it to my dorm room to decorate for Christmas. It was just the right size, and the decorated tumbleweed captured the Christmas spirit. Once out of college, I abandoned the tumbleweed idea. Today, I use the same artificial tree my husband and I bought more than 40 years ago. It still works great, and it holds many good memories.


If you decide to ask some of your relatives about their Christmas memories, you might discover some interesting, intriguing facts.

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Festival of Trees

Festival of Trees is a community-sponsored charitable benefit

This time of year, Farmington, New Mexico, where I live, has an amazing event called Festival of Trees. During the event at the Farmington Civic Center, many local organizations, businesses, schools, and individuals decorate a tree or a wreath and donate it to the festival. They're all on display, this year from Nov. 29-Dec. 3.


For the last 20 years, the Festival of Trees has been a community-sponsored charitable benefit for Presbyterian Medical Services, a not-for-profit organization. PMS offers many services to the Farmington area community, including a health center, children's development services including such things as speech and occupational therapy and autism screenings, and free high-quality early education for children ages six weeks to five years.


Festival of Trees has been a part of Farmington for many decades. At one time, it benefited other organizations, but for the past 20 years, it has focused on helping PMS.


Many people, including a variety of organizations in the community, decorate a tree or wreath that they put on display during Festival of Trees. The trees sometimes include give-aways or gift cards.


Each tree or wreath is numbered and includes the name of the person, organization, service club, business, or school that created it. A barrel in front of each tree contains the number associated with that tree or wreath.


People come to the festival and buy tickets on which they put their name and phone numbers. They buy those tickets from a dedicated group of volunteers. The volunteers are cheerful, helpful and full of enthusiasm for an event they believe in. Many thousands of tickets are sold. Money from the tickets benefits PMS. Christmas ornaments and decorated shirts are also sold to raise money for PMS.


When people have filled out the information on the backs of their tickets, they drop the tickets in the barrels of the trees or wreaths they would like to win. On Sunday, Dec. 4, after the winning ticket from each barrel is drawn, the winner is notified by phone call. They must arrive promptly that afternoon to collect what they won at the civic center.


The festival is more than a way to raise money for PMS. It's also a place to meet friends and to participate in a different activity each day. Those activities include lunch with the trees, teddy bear story time, coffee break, senior citizen social, Santa's sleigh ride, and a platinum celebration that includes a prime rib dinner, dancing, and a special raffle.


Many people come to the festival. Sometimes they just drop raffle tickets into the barrels of the trees or wreaths they would like to win. Other times they participate in one or more of the activities. They all come with the desire to support their community.


What a wonderful way to celebrate the gift of giving at Christmas time!

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Walk to Relax and Discover Beauty

Bee explores gum weed plant

Coats and sweaters appear in my house during this cooler, autumn weather. Now is a wonderful time to take a nature walk. You can walk through your neighborhood, along hiking paths, or find a bench on which to sit and notice your surroundings.


It helps to take a deep breath to help yourself begin to relax. Keep your eyes open as you notice everything around you. The breeze might feel a little chilly, the sun may help you feel warmer. As you focus on what you are seeing and hearing around you, the sounds of chirping birds and flowing water might come into your awareness.


We miss so many things when we don't take time to relax and pay attention. When we learn to calmly listen, we often discover that we start to breathe more deeply, a sure sign that we are starting to relax.


See the dirt pathway with weather resistant weeds poking out between pebbles. Hear the branches of trees rub against each other. Notice some of the few remaining leaves falling toward the ground.


As you continue to notice and to feel relaxed, ask yourself what you would like to see in your life. Do you long for more job satisfaction, improved family harmony, a better understanding of your life's purpose?


Pick up a small rock. Let your thumb and fingers explore its surface. What do you feel there? Bumps? Crevices? Rough or smooth edges?


As you walk or sit, keep noticing what you see, hear, feel, touch, and smell. Every time you become more aware of your surroundings, you are letting go of a distraction in your life that has kept you from noticing all the beauty around you.


Think about the things you enjoy and love in your life. Let your mind explore each of those things in the same way you let your fingers explore that rock. The more you appreciate those positive things, the more you become aware of them.


When you reach the end of your walk, take another deep breath in. Then let it out as you allow gratitude to flow from you. Be thankful for everything you experienced during your time in nature. Saying thanks is one way of helping you to remember the lovely, calm, and relaxing moments you just experienced.

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Surviving Huge Challenges

Determined cottonwood tree

When we are faced with huge challenges, life may seem overwhelming. They feel like insurmountable obstacles: moving away from home, losing a friend or loved one, selling a house and moving into a new one, being fired, adjusting to a new job, struggling through an illness. The list goes on and on.


What I've noticed about such challenges is that each one takes monumental effort on my part. I have to dig deep inside myself and find new ways to cope, or I must polish long-unused skills to survive. When it's all done, I'm exhausted.


No matter what the difficulty, once we make it through and give ourselves time to rest and recover, we wonder how we managed to survive. We remember that neighbors, friends, or even strangers lent a hand at particularly grueling moments. We used tools to help us survive the next minute, hour, or day. We might have learned to use those tools from earlier challenges. We might have discovered how to use them out of sheer necessity and the overwhelming urge to survive. No matter how those tools developed, they are in our toolbox now, and they can be refined for all kinds of other tasks. They help us to navigate life a little more easily.


I thought about that when I was walking on a pathway beside the Animas River in Berg Park. It's a beautiful area of trails, brick walkways and benches that runs through Farmington, New Mexico, the city where I live.


I came upon a cemented area protecting two large metal culverts that let water flow under a walkway and into the Animas River. Nothing grows on that cemented area – except for one very determined little cottonwood tree. It had found a crack in the cement big enough for its roots to reach nutrient-rich soil.


What courage it must have taken for that tree to find a way to flourish! There are much friendlier areas where it could have rooted. Some of those places are just a few feet away, but for some reason it chose that spot.


When I look at the picture I took of that young tree, it reminds me that I too can make it through tough times. Life eventually will get easier, more relaxed, even fun. If I make a list of all the difficulties I have faced in one column and all the good times I've experienced in another column, there are many more good times than difficulties. Thank goodness!

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