How old do you think the following quotation is?
“In our trees lie a great strength; in memorial trees in honor of our soldiers and sailors, whether they lost their lives or not, is a great object lesson as well as a lasting and fitting memorial to those who fought against autocracy.”
This quotation appeared in a volume called “The Modern City,” which was published in 1919 and provides a list of many different ideas both for memorializing the dead and celebrating the living.
As detailed in a 2006 book by Clarks Summit resident Charles Pinches entitled “A Gathering of Memories,” human beings innately recognize the significance of attaching memories to concrete objects. And, as the above quotation proves, Americans have chosen to use trees to memorialize people for at least a century.
Perhaps trees are suited to memorials because of their constancy. Once we plant them, we know that we can always physically return to the place and, in so doing, return to the memory. On the other hand, perhaps trees are suited to memorials because of their cyclical beauty. Every year, trees exhibit the life cycle of birth, beauty, maturity, decline, death, absence and rebirth. Trees also memorialize well because their lifespan often persists across human generations and so we can mark time next to trees. Finally, trees, like the person being honored, become a fixture of the broader community.
A Clarks Summit resident once told me that he had planted one of the trees on his lawn in celebration of his daughter’s birth. A couple of years later, he planted a tree to mark his son’s birth. In an ironic turn of events, these trees became memorial trees. Sadly, before his children reached their teen years, their father who had planted trees in their honor died. Now, as I pass those celebration trees, which are growing tall and sturdy, I remember this devoted father’s love. These trees are now a special memory for his surviving children.
Tree planting in honor of the living was also discussed in the century-old article referenced above. The state forester of Maryland suggested that if schools planted trees in honor of their students, those students would become stakeholders in the care and appreciation of those trees.
Other ideas from 1919 include memorial forests and groves and memorial highway plantings. Imagine the beauty of a mile-long memorial drive, with trees lining both sides of the street. The idea of a memorial forest is not as far-fetched as it might seem: the University of Toronto has planned forests as small as a tenth of an acre as memorials.
Clarks Summit has planted several trees in honor of the dead. Contact the borough office for information on how you can become involved with their care and upkeep.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified Municipal Specialist, a Clarks Summit Tree Commissioner and an operator of a landscape maintenance business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.