Our Christmas trees have a long, and somewhat speculative, history. The early Christians told of the Garden of Eden with an evergreen tree hung with bright red apples. From then, the stories have evolved to today's trees decorated with ornaments and tinsel with a star or angel on the top. The early priest, Martin Luther, according to historical accounts, created a Christmas tree lighted with candles. Germany had been celebrating Christmas with trees in the middle of the 1500s and by the beginning of the 1600s they were found in almost every home. Some say that the tradition of the Christmas tree began with the Romans, went to Germany, and then to England. The use of the tree was brought to the United States by immigrants along with the added traditions of the distribution of presents and the sending of Christmas cards. And, we have had electrically lighted Christmas trees for some 130 years.
Thus, the tree has become part of our lives and beliefs, and it should never be underrated. Growing trees give us life, producing the life-supporting oxygen that we pump through our bodies each day. We could not live without oxygen. Have you thanked a tree today?
We give our attention to trees at Christmastime and, on occasion, at Arbor Day in the spring. Our state tree is the maple tree -- a good choice since it gives us so much shade, colored leaves, lumber, fuel and maple syrup, and the life-sustaining oxygen. We can only hope that global warming does not harm our big northeastern maple trees.
Many schools and communities celebrate our trees with the annual Arbor Day celebrations. It was not always the case. Arbor Day was not officially declared until 1888. It took some time to bring attention to the importance of celebrating our trees. School playgrounds were non-existing, in fact, our "conservation president," Teddy Roosevelt, called it to our attention in the early 1900s: "It is a poor type of school nowadays that has not a good playground attached."
The New York state Department of Public Instruction's annual Arbor Day publication of 1903 spelled it out: "Why not make an effort on the occasion of your Arbor Day exercises to start a movement for larger school grounds? It would not be too much to ask for a whole acre for your school. It would cost less than $50, an insignificant sum when the value of the ground to the school children is considered."
Beautifying was to follow: "The lot should be fenced in so that any improvements that the children make may be protected. The children should be involved and it is well to plant some trees and shrubbery. This is a work well worth undertaking." They were right and they gave detailed instructions on planting a tree.
Trees are, and always have been, a subject of discussion in Adirondack country. We have preserved our trees since 1885. There was a time when clear-cutting and over-harvesting of trees were marking the end of the forested Adirondacks as we know them. Erosion and devastation were reported and illustrated in the newspapers of that day. Fortunately, there were those who brought the destruction to a screeching halt. They created the New York state Forest Preserve and other limitations to ensure that the green canopy of upstate New York would remain.
I have heard that clear-cutting has again become an issue in Adirondack country. I do not know both sides of the issue so all I can say is woodman, spare that tree. Touch not a single bough; In youth it sheltered me, And I'll protect it now; 'Twas my forefather's hand That place it near the cot, There, woodman, let it stand, Thy axe shall harm it not." (George P. Morris, 1837.)
DON WILLIAMS was born and raised
in the Adirondacks. He is a retired
Gloversville school principal and magazine author. He lives in Gloversville.