Small Steps and Big Trees: A Response to Climate Change

When we think of climate change and global warming, it can seem a little overwhelming. It’s easy to fall into pessimism and discouragement. Over the past several months, there have been many voices and flashy headlines talking about the fast pace of climate change and global warming.

I’m a relative Johnny Come Lately to this discussion. Maybe based on the news, you might call me Johnny Too Late. I confess that I’m not a science guy. When I hear the typical talk on climate change, I strain my brain toward the science and then I usually shut down. I’ll either fall asleep or simply tune out. It’s just really hard for me to wrap my head around the science. Okay, maybe I’m more than a little lame. Yet, I also don’t think I’m that unusual. I think there are many people like me. We’re the people living in the cities and the suburbs. We have full time jobs, kids and we have a ton of debt. Our lives are filled with soccer, gymnastics, music lessons and birthday parties. Life is good, but it’s also busy and because it’s busy, it’s hard for us to consider anything, much less the end of the world as we know it.

Speaking as a person of faith, there also seemed to be precious little room for conservation or environmentalism at our church communities. The evangelical Christians I hung out with for much of my life were usually much too interested in people’s souls, to care about little topics like pollution, the quality of our food and water and the future of the planet. Thankfully, life changed for me. I began pursuing a more holistic faith in God and I found myself challenged to think more broadly about what it means to truly love my neighbor.

Last month, I read a book called the Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins. It talked about all the wonderful things trees do for us. It also talked about the scary path of deforestation that we’re on, and the efforts of people like David Milarch, Jared Milarch, Terry Mock, Bill Werner and the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive to turn back the tide. There was a fair amount of science in the Robbins’ book, but I think one of the reason why the book was so compelling is that it’s not just about science. Yes, Robbins laid out the problems of climate change and the tragic costs of deforestation, but more than talk about science, the book also told a story. The Man Who Planted Trees told the story of a remarkable, but very ordinary man, named David Milarch who set out, along with his colleagues, to clone champion trees and begin the slow and arduous process of reforestation to help restore our ecosystem.

When I read The Man Who Planted Trees, I was immediately impressed and blown away by the story of David Milarch. I began reading other books on sustainability and forests. I also began to take small steps to change the way I do things. I started using the bus for my commutes and I was more conscious about recycling. I paid a little more attention to how I spent my money. I took my daughters out for walks at our local Mass Audobon Habitat. When considering the larger problems of climate change, the things I’m doing might seem small and insignificant. Yet, I’m left with a growing appreciation, that real change and a turning of the tide, begins with each of us taking small steps.

This past December, David Milarch, Terry Mock and the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive went to Port Orford, a place in Southwestern Oregon to plant 250 redwood saplings over four acres. These redwood saplings were clones from champion Redwoods, including the Fieldbrook Stump, a big redwood (even by redwood standards), that had been cut down in 1890. Bill Latka writes about this effort on the Archangel Blog.

There are also some remarkable pictures by Jamie Francis of the Oregonian chronicling this effort. These pictures also found their way into a video produced by the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area at an event entitled “Beginning of the Sustainable World” this past December. Among other things, this event documented Archangel Ancient Tree Archive planting the world’s 1st champion coast redwood and giant sequoia forest on the southern Oregon coast. A small portion of this video can be found below.

When I see efforts like the one taken at Port Orford by Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, I’m reminded again about the importance of taking small incremental steps. While 250 redwood saplings might a represent only a small percentage of those trees lost to deforestation, it’s still pretty impressive. These are saplings from champion redwoods and they will grow until they touch the sky. Each fully grown tree will eventually be able to store about a ton of carbon. Nevertheless, it’s worth saying that sometimes incremental steps can lead to something bigger and in this case the planting of 250 trees might serve as a model for similar or larger scale projects around the globe.

Watching the above Port Orford video, I’m also reminded how these kinds of incremental steps do not happen by themselves. The effort at Port Orford didn’t just happen because of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, it happened in part because a local community was supportive to their efforts. What is the role of the local community in the effort to slow and reverse the course of global warming? When we think of the “change” we need, we might think about the kind of change that happens nationally or globally. No less important are the efforts taken by local communities and activists who decide they want to do things differently.

Lastly, part of me wonders how we can support similar efforts like the one undertaken at Port Orford? What are the lessons we can learn from the effort at Port Orford? What are the necessary conditions for beginning and sustaining such projects? If I were to ask, “Can we do this in Massachusetts?” (just one example, and I realize such a project would not involve Redwoods), what would be important factors to make it happen? How can local activists create an environment where more of these projects can take place? These are all questions worth asking, as we further consider the small steps we can take together.

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4 thoughts on “Small Steps and Big Trees: A Response to Climate Change

  1. I like this story a lot, thank you!

    On River Cottage, Eug and my favourite show at the moment, the host of the show started something called a landshare in the UK, where people with land offer it online to people who want to grow stuff- one episode described planting trees on someone else’s land, which I thought was pretty cool, because I think a lot of people would get in on this as an extension of the community garden idea and planting trees to me is an act of faith, because it takes so long to see a tree or a fruit.

    I encourage Noah to plant whatever seeds he finds- and he finds a lot- because Observatory is so grey and paved over. When many pomegranate seeds ended up squished around the house (we let Noah and Eli loose on a pomegranate), we picked them up and planted them, and now we have tiny pomegranate trees growing all over in our tire gardens. I hope I can keep them alive until we are someplace where they can grow really big and bear fruit.

    As you say, we get consumed by our lives as they are so I by no means have any answers- but I very much am attracted to the idea that the seemingly obvious things that consume our daily lives are not so obvious or so necessary. Every time I do something from scratch that I never thought much of before- marshmallows, hot sauce, jam, ice-cream or bread- I feel amazed by what I’m eating, because before that moment I never knew what went into the process, and I don’t want to outsource that amazement to factories anymore. Except I still do what I don’t want to do.

    I recently read this in “the Act of Commonplace”, by Wendell Berry:
    To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.


    How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them-all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. In answering them, we practice, or do not practice, our religion.

    • Hey Jo: Thanks for the great comments. Totally relate to your story of Noah and his seeds. Yesterday, I saw our kids digging a hole in front of the house to plant “a seed.” Although, it could also have been a small stone.

      I love the Berry quotes as well. In our crazy lives, it sometimes seems as if we’re faced with this impossible choice of living fast (which means just keepin up) vs. living well. This is clearly something we’re still working through. That we could truly experience creation as a sacrament!

  2. Pingback: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive | Small Steps and Big Trees: A Response to Climate Change

  3. Pingback: Small Steps and Big Trees A Response to Climate Change | Positive Impact Magazine Stories & Solutions on living a Happy, Healthy Life

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