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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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How Rainwater Helps Plants to Grow

Today's rain helped these cosmos flowers to flourish.

It has been raining here this afternoon, and the trees, flowers and vegetables are drinking in the water. When I go outside to check on them after a rain, the plants all look perkier and healthier. It's a good reminder that we all need to drink plenty of water to stay healthy.


There's something about rainwater that gives plants more of what they need than sprinkler water. On the Internet, I tried to find out what that something is.


One thing rainwater provides is nitrogen. It comes to the plants in the form of nitrates. Plants use those nitrates to help them produce green leafy foliage.


The rainwater has a pH between 6.2 and 6.8. The term pH stands for potential hydrogen, and pH is a measure of how much alkalinity and acidity something contains. The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity. The higher the pH level, the higher the alkalinity.


I checked online to learn more about alkalinity. At https://study.com/academy/lesson/alkalinity-definition-calculation.html, I learned that alkalinity deals mainly with three ions: carbonate, bicarbonate, and hydroxide. They all easily react with hydrogen ions to form more neutral compounds.


Basically, alkalinity measures how well the water can neutralize acids that are added to it. The acids can come from dissolved rock as well as from soil, acid rain, runoff, or industrial chemical discharge. When you have a pH level of 7, that means the water is neutral. Rainwater, which is between 6.2 and 6.8 pH, is pretty close to a neutral balance between alkalinity and acidity. I think all of that means that rainwater delivers water to plants which they can easily use in a healthy way.


That's about as much information that my not very scientifically minded mind can absorb. But it's kind of interesting to know what rainwater contains that helps to make plants thrive after a rain.


The next time you go outside to check on your flowers, trees and the vegetables in your garden after a rain, be thankful for the rainwater. It's just what the plants need. When the vegetables in your garden are healthier, you are likely to be a little healthier too after you eat those vegetables.


I'm glad I live in a part of the country where we don't cope with too much rain. It is heartbreaking on the news to see the devastation that people deal with when they've lost everything to a flood. Though our area suffers from drought and all the challenges that brings, it's encouraging to see how well plants perk up with just a little rainfall.


We learn through challenges to find something to be thankful for, no matter what our circumstances.

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Hunter Finds Rare American Chestnut Tree

In 2019, a hunter named Bret Lanan found what he thought was a mature American chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve in Centreville, Delaware. It is about 50 years old, 70 feet tall, and at least 35 inches in diameter.


It doesn't seem like such a find would be impressive, but it actually is. A recent article written by Shannon Marvel McNaught in the Delaware News Journal, part of the USA Today Network, told about the remarkable find.


It is estimated that there once were about four billion American chestnut trees in forests of the eastern United States. That changed after a chestnut blight in New York infected the trees. The blight spread fast, and it wiped out most of the trees.


It didn't kill the roots, so new trees sprouted from the damaged trees' roots. Unfortunately, the blight attacked the sprouts, and they died young. Most American chestnut trees that did manage to survive are only an inch or less in diameter.


Today, the American chestnut tree is considered functionally extinct. So when Lanan found the chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve, it was an important find. At first, there was concern the tree might be cross-pollinated with a Chinese chestnut, a common ornamental plant that hasn't been affected by the blight.


Once experts determined it really was an American chestnut tree, the Delaware Nature Society called the tree a precious resource. Not many people get a chance to see such a big American chestnut tree any more.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Village Blacksmith, describes the blacksmith as a mighty man standing "under a spreading chestnut tree." Except in pictures, most people wouldn't know what such a tree really looked like.


Now, thanks to hunter Bret Lanan's discovery, at least one huge American chestnut tree can still be seen. The farm preserve may give the tree some protection. Though it managed to escape the blight, it would be a shame for the tree to be damaged by curious people who might unintentionally harm it.


The Delaware Nature Society plans to collect its seeds this fall, and a plant-focused nonprofit, Mt. Cuba Center, has agreed to plant the seeds. They hope their efforts will help to bring the famous spreading chestnut tree back to more abundant life.

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Touched by a Tree

One of the things I enjoy is spending time in my front and back yards being around the trees. I don't have many trees, just a few spruce and juniper trees. The neighbor's elm would like to add some elm trees to my yard, but that's not going to happen.


One of the many good things about my dog is that she likes to eat baby elms. When I find an elm sprout, I pull it up, and my dog dives into it like it's a gourmet meal.


Trees have a calming effect on me. That calmness makes me want to spend more time outside with them. Other people tell me they like to be around trees for the same reason.


There's a trend on TikTok lately in which people take pictures of themselves standing by a tree. They ask the tree to touch their shoulder, and they have the most amazed looks on their faces when they say the tree actually did move one of its branches and tap them on the shoulder.


I tried that once, and nothing happened. But it's an intriguing idea to think that a tree might actually hear and understand what we ask it to do.


For me, the peace of mind I get while being near trees and the inspiring thoughts that sometimes come when I'm calm enough to hear them are priceless. Instead of tapping my shoulder, trees are tapping my mind and touching my heart.


When I'm outside admiring one of my trees, I find myself in a meditative state. Meditation can be difficult if I sit somewhere and try to focus on my breathing. For me, it's easier to get into a meditative state when I'm enjoying the beauty of the trees around me. All my worries and concerns fall away for a few moments as I think of nothing but the trees.


When you're in a peaceful state of mind around trees, it might be fun to stand close to one and ask it to touch your shoulder. It would be even more interesting if you have a camera toting friend with you. If your friend gets a picture of the tree touching your shoulder, you could put it on TikTok and join others who have been amazed when they've been touched by a tree.

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Special Trees Inspire Hope that World Peace Is Possible

When Jane Goodall thinks of hope, she thinks about three trees that suffered terribly but survived near impossible odds.


Goodall is best known for her study of the social and family life of chimpanzees. At first, she thought they were kinder than humans until she discovered that they can be aggressive and violent. She saw some females kill the young of other females in their group to maintain their dominance.


In spite of all the violence, prejudice, greed and racism in the world, Goodall has never given up on hope. She and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson wrote about hope in The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. An article about the book appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Reader's Digest.


Goodall calls hope a crucial survival trait. When she thinks about hope, she remembers meeting two trees that survived impossible odds.


She was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists killed so many people. Ten years later, she met a Callery pear tree that was at the site of the twin towers when they collapsed on 9/11. It was discovered one month after the event. The tree had been crushed between two blocks of cement.


Only half of the trunk remained, and it was charred black. Its roots were broken, and there was only one living branch. Rebecca Clough, the woman who found it, pleaded for the tree to be given a chance. It found a home in a Bronx nursery, where, over time and with much effort, it was nourished back to health. Once it was strong enough, the tree was transplanted in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, where every spring its bright blossoms move people to tears.


Goodall met another amazing tree in Nagasaki, Japan. It is one of two 500-year-old camphor trees that survived after the second atomic bomb was dropped at the end of World War II. In the temperature as hot as the sun produced by the nuclear explosion, nothing was expected to survive. But somehow these two trees clung to life.


They were mutilated. Only the lower halves of the trunks were there. Most of the branches were gone, and no leaves remained. People took Goodall to see one of those trees. It's now quite large. Through many cracks in the trunk, visitors can see that it's all black inside. Even so, every spring the tree sprouts new leaves.


If those trees could survive such brutality, then there is hope for all of us, Goodall believes. That's one reason why she participated in the 2021 United Nations International Day of Peace in New York City.


Each year the UN International Day of Peace is observed around the world on Sept. 21. The United Nations calls on everyone to lay down their weapons on that day and reaffirm their commitment to live in harmony. Theme for the 2022 UN International Day of Peace is "End Racism. Build Peace."


For Goodall, the Survivor Tree and the two camphor trees represent the hope that world peace is possible.

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Some Cities Hire Arborists

Some cities hire arborists to oversee the tree population. Durango, Colorado is one of those cities. Located in the southwest corner of the state, Durango is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and beautiful terrain.


The city takes pride in its trees. Even though the soil in Southwest Colorado isn't as easy to grow trees in as some places around the nation, Durango supports almost 12,000 trees in a city where over 19,000 people live.


The Durango Herald does a good job of keeping people informed about what's going on in and near the city. Herald staff writer Christian Burney wrote an interesting article in the August 5, 2022 issue about the city's arborist, Matt Besecker. He keeps tabs on all the trees, what kinds they are, and where they're located. There are lots of different varieties, from chestnuts and American elms to cottonwoods, ponderosa pines, and a host of other species.


There are lots of things to think about when taking care of trees in a city surrounded by mountains, where wild animals roam. That's a big reason why the city doesn't plant fruit-bearing trees. The fruit would attract bears and deer into town, and that could cause significant problems. Few people want to encounter a bear while they're shopping at the local supermarket or when they're taking a stroll down a city street with their family.


Instead of fruit-bearing trees, the city plants trees such as crab apples and Krauter Vesuvius plums. They are bred not to produce fruit, but they do have pretty flowers.


Besecker works with a crew of city employees to promote tree planting. The city has a 50/50 cost sharing program that lets residents help with planting trees. In that arrangement, the tree is planted somewhere on the person's property that is also in a city-owned public right of way. The  city and the land owner each pay for half the cost of the tree. The city provides the labor to install the tree, and the land owner takes care of it by watering it.


The city tries to plant a variety of different trees so that if one type of tree is damaged by disease, other trees will remain healthy. Besecker and his crew spend a lot of time maintaining all the trees in town. They sometimes have to remove sick or dead ones. Some trees remain healthy for many years, including the city's oldest tree, a ponderosa pine that's about 200 years old.


I'm not sure how common it is for cities to hire arborists to take care of their trees, but I think it's a great idea.

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Trees Keep Cities Cooler

Several trees surround homes in a neighborhood.
Trees in a city neighborhood

While riding a bicycle with a small weather station attached to it in 2016, Carly Ziter of Concordia University gathered some interesting facts about trees in city neighborhoods. She rode her bike around Madison, Wisconsin to collect a massive amount of data.


Those facts were carefully analyzed and studied by a team working with Ziter, and they came up with an interesting conclusion. They discovered that if trees cover 40 percent of a city neighborhood, those trees will provide maximum cooling benefits.


The study was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An article about the study written by Matt Hickman appeared in an April 1, 2019 Treehugger newsletter. Another one by Lloyd Alter appeared in the July 25, 2022 Treehugger newsletter. If you would like to know more about trees and many interesting facts about nature and gardens, go to www.treehugger.com and check out the interesting website. It's full of valuable information.


I can imagine Ziter riding around on her bicycle with a weather station as she collected all that data. She estimates she rode 400 to 500 miles around Madison, covering ten areas of the city many times during different hours of the day. That data showed that there are great economic benefits to having many areas in the city with a 40 percent tree coverage. The costs of removing pollution and the energy it takes to run air conditioners and other cooling devices are reduced. That can save many millions of dollars.


The study pointed out that planting trees just anywhere isn't always the best answer. Instead, Ziter suggested looking at areas that need a few more trees to help them reach the 40 percent coverage.


The trees promote cooling by providing shade and by a process called evapotranspiration. That process happens when the rays of the sun shine on the canopies of trees. It helps water to evaporate from leaves and cool them down. As a result, it takes less energy to warm the air.


I'm not sure what percent of tree coverage is in my city neighborhood, but I'm pretty sure it's less than 40 percent. My city is one of those that might benefit from having more trees. If trees cool the air, then people wouldn't have to use up quite so much electricity running air conditioners. If that would shave off even a few dollars from my electricity bill, it would be worth it!

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Tree Projects Improve the Land and People's Lives

I am heartened when I read in different publications how people are finding healthy, nurturing ways to work with trees. Projects in Boulder, Colorado and in Honduras are two examples of those projects.


Charred trees ground to mulch are being used to stabilize a forest that burned in 2020 near Boulder, Colorado. The mulch was spread by helicopter over the foothills where dead trees stand like blackened sticks. Purpose of the mulch is to help new vegetation take root.


It also may prevent soil erosion. That's especially important because erosion can damage nearby lakes and streams. A large two-page picture of mulch being dropped on the foothills appears on pages 68 and 69 of Saving Forests, a special May 2022 issue of the National Geographic.


In El Triunfo, Honduras, residents are learning to grow and harvest cashew trees as they adjust to the harsh realities of living within what is known as the dry corridor. In that corridor, flooding or no rain at all create huge problems for people who try to grow corn and other traditional produce such as beans. The dry corridor is part of Central America that also includes parts of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica.


In a recent Guardian Weekly, Sarah Johnson wrote an article about the experience of El Triunfo resident Lucia Alvarez who struggled to survive by growing corn. Drought and unpredictable rains often ruined her corn crop.


With training from the World Food Programme (WFP), Lucia and others in El Triunfo learned how to work with cashew trees. The trees already grew in the area, but people didn't know how to use their potential.


WFP is a United Nations program that was the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Its humanitarian work saves lives in emergencies. It also uses food assistance to promote peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and climate change challenges.


As a result of WFP's help, many people in the El Triunfo region are starting to grow and harvest cashew trees, which don't need much water. The trees also improve the soil's condition.


The people there have learned how to harvest cashew apples containing the nuts. They work with other organizations to do all that's required to bring the ready-to-eat cashews to market. One company in El Triunfo has learned to do every step of the entire process on its own.


Because they learned to work with cashew trees, people of El Triunfo have the financial resources to buy their own land and animals and to educate their children. They are prospering at home.

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