May 12, 2011
"The Best Time To Plant A Tree"
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
There is a proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.” I love this proverb, but would actually like to alter it slightly based on an experience I had the other day. I would like to change the first part of the proverb to: “The best time to plant a tree is one hundred seventeen years ago.” Please allow me to explain.
A couple of weeks ago I was going for an early morning run through Lake Park, a beautiful county park that overlooks Lake Michigan here in my home town of Milwaukee, WI. I have run through this park countless times over the last twenty-five years, but this time I noticed something different about a particular row of very large oak trees in the center of the park. Each of them had a bright ribbon tied around them (which required a great deal of ribbon, given the huge diameter of each of these trees). At first my heart sank for fear that this meant the trees were marked to be cut down. I walked over to get a closer look and saw the trees were fine, and then saw that the ribbon on each tree said the same thing: “This tree was planted by Christian Wahl in 1894.” I looked up to the tops of the trees and beyond as I quietly thanked Mr. Wahl for the work he had done one hundred and seventeen years ago, the fruits of which I was enjoying at that very moment.
Christian Wahl was born in Bavaria in 1829. He moved with his family to Milwaukee in 1846 and later became the first president of the Milwaukee County Park Commission. Under his leadership, and with the help of nationally prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Lake Park was created in the late 1800’s. The park was created to be a place of re-creation and relaxation for the entire city of Milwaukee, which is something it clearly continues to be over a century after it’s creation.
All of us are beneficiaries of generous acts by people who have preceded us in life. We recreate in parks and wilderness areas preserved and protected by others. We attend places of worship created by people who had foresight and courage years, decades or centuries ago (and often created endowments to help secure their financial security). We live in communities that people before us settled and created. We may work in a company or attend a school that was started long before we were even born. And we were all born into families where generations of traditions and history helped form us in to the people we are today.
All of this gets me to thinking about the “trees” I am planting today in my own life. What seeds of love am I sowing in the world and in the relationships that mean the most to me? What trees of support and strength am I growing in my friendships, family, neighborhood and larger community? There is great wisdom in the saying that “You reap what you sow.” There is also great wisdom in the fact that we also reap from the thoughtful and generous acts of those who have gone before us.
The best time to sow a generous act of love and kindness in our relationships or in our community is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.