Arbor Day has an image problem. Despite its importance, it’s become the Fredo Corleone of national holidays.
It registers low on the holiday pantheon, atop which sit the federal holidays like Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving Day.
The celebration of these holidays includes a day off work, so they’re unlikely to be knocked from their perch.
Next we have the High Guilt Holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which prevent us from playing golf on a beautiful spring Sunday. For the religious, this next level includes the likes of Passover, Easter, Yom Kippur, and Christmas.
The level below that features the Indulgence Holidays: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo. They don’t include a day off but usually require one the following morning.
The minor league
Arbor Day falls in the last level, somewhere between Groundhog Day and Take Your Daughter to Work Day in national prominence. This is the minor league, a level for which Hallmark doesn’t make cards.
These are the holidays your fun fourth grade teacher celebrated in class but your parents never remembered.
Journalist Julius Sterling Morton championed the importance of Arbor Day while writing about forest conservation for the Nebraska City News in 1854.
Much like the Walsh’s Wonderings column you’re reading now, his pieces would lead to a movement that changed the world. (Regular readers of this column are aware of my important work whining about selfies, plastic bags, and thawing feces.)
In 1872, Morton organized the first official Arbor Day in Nebraska, where over a million trees were planted. He became governor of Nebraska and eventually U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Celebration date varies by state
Arbor Day was declared a national holiday by several U.S. presidents, who settled on the last Friday in April as the official date.
Unfortunately, the date of its observance varies from state to state based on the best tree-planting weather. Louisiana celebrates it in January, and Maine in May. Morton couldn’t generate much heat for a holiday no one knew when to celebrate.
Morton wasn’t even the brightest light in his own family. His son, Joy, founded the famous Morton Salt company. That girl wearing the yellow dress and holding the umbrella is more famous than Julius Sterling Morton, and that’s with most kids today not even knowing how salt magically appears in that little shaker on the table.
Tragically, Morton was killed when two newly-planted trees fell on him during a forest preservation rally. (That didn’t happen, but do you see how it would have made Arbor Day a much more interesting holiday?)
Like ordering vanilla
Celebrating Arbor Day has become like ordering vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, yet it’s so much more important than many of its more recognized brethren.
National Geographic claims that rampant deforestation results in the loss of forests the size of Panama every year. At this rate, the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years.
Even seemingly positive news about the sustainability of our forests come with a disturbing aftertaste. Recently, for instance, tech giant Apple bought 36,000 acres of private forestland in Maine and North Carolina to create a “working forest” for packaging future products.
While Apple’s investments in minimizing its carbon footprint are commendable, it also portends a scarier trend toward corporations buying up natural resources in the interest of “protecting” them. From whom are they protecting these resources, exactly?
Make it a point to plant a tree in honor of Julius Sterling Morton. Talk it up with your neighbors. If there’s any justice, Arbor Day could “supplant” Valentine’s Day on the holiday pantheon.
You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at rob@RobertFWalsh.net or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.