Tree Hugger’s Holiday

While we’re celebrating the secular new year this weekend, we welcome the new month of Shevat in the Jewish calendar on Monday, January 3rd. This is the month in which we celebrate the new year of the trees, Tu B’Shevat.

Growing up in the northeast, we celebrated this holiday in the middle of winter by singing songs about the almond trees blooming in Israel and eating almonds, dried figs and bokser, chewy carob pods that tasted like damp tree bark. I didn’t appreciate this holiday’s connection to the natural environment until I was older.

We learn in the Talmud that this is the perfect time for planting trees in Israel: “The Rabbis discussed why this date was chosen…they concluded that the majority of the annual rainfall has usually already fallen by this time in the land of Israel, thus yielding a healthy, water-logged soil in which to plant new trees.” (Rosh Hashanah 14a)

It turns out that this is a good time for tree-planting here in the southeast, too. Although Tu B’Shevat falls early this year, it appears our soil will be sufficiently healthy and water-logged, and Trees Atlanta will be teaming up with Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN) Georgia at several tree-planting events around Metro Atlanta (see below).

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“One of the reasons we’re lonely is that we’ve cut ourselves off from the nonhuman world and have called this ‘progress.’” —Barry Lopez

Living in Sandy Springs for 5½ years, I’ve witnessed unrelenting construction and destruction of hawks’ habitats as entire urban forests were leveled to build high rise apartments, office buildings and parking lots. 

During the last 18 months, I’ve taken many walks through my neighborhood, where care was taken 30 years ago to leave the old growth pines and other deciduous trees that surround the property and line the stream that runs through it untouched. I’m always taken aback when I see hawks perched on low branches, eyeing the baby rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels within their talons’ reach. They’re almost close enough to touch.

We need to replace the canopy we’ve lost through our own pursuit of progress.

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“Our task must be to free ourselves…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”  —Albert Einstein, in a letter of 1950, as quoted in The New York Times (29 March 1972)

In October, enjoying the late morning sunshine, I wrote a poem about sitting still and listening to the wisdom of the trees:

Let me sit in the presence of these beautiful old pines, 

snippets of sun poking through the spaces between their needles, 

lines of light and shadow criss-crossing the wooden planks of the deck. 

If I sit here long enough and listen to my heart, 

and tune out the hum of traffic, 

and follow the sound of squirrels scurrying along their branches, 

I can hear the trees speak to me. 

They tell me I am alive.

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Register soon for this event at Tu B’Shvat Tree Planting at Hammond Park. Space is limited.

All adults must register individually; children are welcome to plant with a parent.