The weather's just right, nature is watering everything, and it's a great time to plant trees! The Monroe County Solid Waste Management District (District) this year distributed around 250 seedlings from 16 tree species to Monroe County residents in honor of Earth Day and Arbor Day.

The free Tree Seedling distribution is sponsored every year by the District in collaboration with the Indiana Division of Forestry. The event not only beautifies Monroe County but reminds the public to plant trees and protect natural resources like trees by reusing and recycling paper. Some who received tree seedlings didn't have many trees around their houses, others had forests, but it seemed that the majority believed you can never have too many trees.

Many had tree stories to tell, and if trees could talk, they would have a lot to tell as well!

Some of the seedlings journeyed home in environmentally friendly cars, others in SUVs, and one zoomed home on a motorcycle in the arms of what looked like a sixth grader with her dad. Some knew exactly what type of tree they were looking for, others had no clue but they just knew they wanted a tree.

Some folks have spent years planting both seedlings and trees with root balls. However, for others it would be a first-time experience, and I know the instructions we provided came in handy. It wasn't a good sign, though, when some adults, from all economic levels, hold up the little seedling, whether it's a deciduous seedling that looks like a stick or a conifer that has long roots and a tuft of hair, and ask, "Will this really grow?" At least they are learning to connect or to reconnect with nature's realities.

When selecting trees, moms and dads told their children -- "This is a baby tree." As one 4-year-old placed his tree in the bag, he said he wanted to plant it by his tree house, and he jumped out the door while a middle-aged man delicately sorted through the white pine seedlings and, finding just the right one, said, "Come to Daddy. You're coming home." Others looked at the seedlings and then asked me, "Where are the free trees?" Those are the people who learned what a tree seedling is!

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Through distributing tree seedlings for Earth Day and Arbor Day, I hear a lot of tree tales. Trees are more than just nice. They are the "lungs of the planet," and for many, they hold fond and vivid memories.

"Wherever people grew up, they seem to have tales about trees."

One District employee says that as a young boy (and he's not that old) he had a crab apple tree that was his favorite to climb. He climbed it all the time, and while he sat in that tree he would eat the crab apples every time until he got sick. Then when he was older, he would use those crab apples as ammunition with fun encounters with other kids in the neighborhood.

One lady told me that she remembers cherry trees in her yard and how juicy and sweet those cherries were, and occasionally a bit puckery.

Wherever people grew up, they seem to have tales about trees. I even met a lady who said she grew up in Arizona where there are not a lot of trees. As a kid, she would seek out an electrical box on her block and pretend it was a tree because it was a good lookout area and, she wasn't the only one!

Another lady told me that she grew up in a house that had a paw paw tree and how she loved those paw paws, which I learned are nicknamed "Indiana bananas."

My tree story involves a weeping willow tree in Lake Forest, Ill. We had tons of trees around our home and a forest in back. In winter, it would flood under the willow and freeze, making a perfect skating area. We also used to play baseball using trees as bases. We were the central place for baseball in our neighborhood because of our fantastic trees. And then there was the wildlife the forest supported and the make-believe my sister and I indulged in growing up, where trees were the center ring of play.

Ah, yes, trees are grand! Moms and dads and grandparents talk about how it reminds them of planting seedlings their children brought home from school, which they now look at the tree and say, "You remember how little it was and how little you were!"

Occasionally, arguments break out. Some couples just can't agree. One retired couple wouldn't agree on a tree seedling species. One wanted a shorter tree, and one wanted a tall one. Neither got what they wanted, but I have a feeling that conversation isn't over yet.

Sadder tree stories also crossed my ears, as some people relayed how their 100-year-old trees died and are now firewood or how their teenage sons mowed the seedling over by mistake (names of offenders not given, including those in my household).

Some things don't die, or at least take a long time to do so. "There's always hope," one woman said. Those who are older realize that they will never see the tree as a large tree because they will die first, but they plant it for health of the earth and the enjoyment of others. What's important is that they planted one!

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Ah, yes, if trees could speak! I had one tree seedling left. Who would claim it? Part of me didn't want to announce it because I just wanted to see who was going to come in and search for it. However, I knew that I would have to move on to providing other District Earth Care activities. So, I announced the last seedling to the patrons on the Reuse Sidewalk.

"One lady told me that she remembers cherry trees in her yard and how juicy and sweet those cherries were."

I perused the group of busy reusers and recyclers. Our eyes met. One woman raised her hand, and I knew that seedling had a home. The last tree seedling of Earth Day/Arbor Day 2009 at the District was given to a mom who then gave it to her teenage daughter for her birthday because "her birthday is on Earth Day."

This family always refers to the daughter's birthday as "Bearth Day" because her daughter, who is 15, says it is her "favorite holiday." So the mom delicately pulled the seedling from the mulch, wrapped it gently with mulch to keep the roots moist, and the tree seedling, a white pine, was chosen. What a better way to end our Earth Day/Arbor Day Tree Seedling Distribution.

Now I will await 2010 for more tree stories, and I will wonder who the first tree seedling will go to, the tree stories that I will hear, the people that I will meet, and if there will be an intense search for just the right tree for just the right person. And next year maybe we should have a shovel on loan like one woman asked us for.

The District provides a lot of earth-care services to the public, but we didn't have a shovel appear on the Reuse Sidewalk at the time. I do hope that lady was able to borrow one from a neighbor, plant a tree, and share some tree tales.

Anyway, many thanks to our tree telling patrons. We hope that more people will make every day Earth Day and Arbor Day and, if you don't have a personal tree tale yet, get outside and experience one!

Elisa K. Pokral can be reached at epokral@mcswmd.org.