First Learn How to Love Them

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Tompkins Weekly    2-28-24

By Patricia Ladley

In her beautiful article “There is no companion like a tree” (Ithaca Child, Fall 2023), Lara Johnson writes: “So how do we save the trees? First, we learn how to love them … We plant trees and watch them grow … and remember how to be in relationship with them.” This insight describes the coming together of eight tree-loving strangers at the 2019 Project Drawdown Workshop hosted by The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca. That meeting eventually evolved into Trees Up Tompkins (TUT), a community group dedicated to planting native trees in Tompkins County. In the year that followed, we met monthly, shared readings and studies about trees, interviewed tree experts, took field trips to nearby nurseries and a Cayuga Bird Club restoration site, invited input on land availability from local municipalities, participated in a guided planting – and grew excited about contributing to the well-being of our community through the planting of native trees!

TUT’s first planting project was an ambitious one – clearing invasive privet from a 1250 square foot swath of city land on Cayuga Lake inlet at Lighthouse Point. With the generous help of volunteers and the support of Jeanne Grace, Ithaca City Forester, we planted 50+ native trees and shrubs in Fall 2020. TUT cleared more land in 2021and planted an additional 60+ trees. Work continues there; the weeds are persistent, but so are we! To date, 200 native trees have been planted at Lighthouse Point including white and red oak, river birch, basswood, hickory, bladdernut, maple and birch.

Trees Up Tompkins volunteers plant native species near Cayuga Lake inlet. Photo provided.

Long before our efforts, the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ People inhabited this land and related intimately with the gifts of this place, including trees. TUT reached out to Stephen Henhawk, a member of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Nation. Stephen agreed to translate the names of some of our trees into the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ language with the understanding that he would also share the culture and traditions surrounding each labeled tree. This collaboration involved a series of meetings with Stephen resulting in a planned audio/video educational component: the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ translations and teachings on TUT’S website and on tree signage at Lighthouse Point. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with Stephen Henhawk and the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ PeopleIn the Spring of 2023, Trees Up Tompkins undertook an improvement project at MacDaniels Park, a small parcel of land on West Hill donated to the City of Ithaca by Dr. L.H. MacDaniels, horticulturalist and former faculty member at Cornell University. Fortunately, at the same time Dan Meyer, graduate student of landscape architecture at Cornell, walked into the life of Trees Up Tompkins! With Dan’s encouragement and know-how, TUT and a group of volunteers (students and West Hill neighbors) put shovels to the ground in one long, sweaty Saturday morning.  TUT planted fifty + trees including shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, American basswood, American hornbeam, red mulberry, Kentucky coffee tree, and tulip tree.  But we weren’t done yet. Watering the young trees was a necessity. Dan took on this task with assistance from nearby neighbors. Happy outcome: ownership of “their” park and continued enjoyment of it.

During the Drawdown Workshop in 2019, we were introduced to the Miyawaki Method of tree planting. Intrigued by this method of growing trees in close proximity in small spaces with enriched soil, TUT members reached out to the Soil Factory to determine interest in a collaborative project. Given that the Soil Factory is a place for building networks, collaborations and experiments, the answer was “Yes”. A Fall 2024 date is suggested for planting trees in a Miyawaki-inspired manner. The site is marked off, trees are ordered, and weed suppression has been planned. We look forward to evaluating the effectiveness of CO2 sequestration by using the Miyawaki method, to involving the community in the experiment, and to getting more native trees in the ground.

Trees Up Tompkins is deeply grateful for the community volunteers, students (Cornell, Ithaca College, Lehmann Alternative School, Belle Sherman Elementary), neighbors and friends who have contributed time and energy to planting native trees with us. No longer strangers, but kin who invest in a kind of “stone soup” endeavor, each one contributes according to his/her interest and ability. The result is trees that can offer so much: food, medicine, oxygen, carbon sequestration, air conditioning, companionship, beauty and happiness!

TUT welcomes community involvement in ongoing tree-planting projects. One can contribute time, energy and sweat equity on site. Or one can be supportive by contributing to “Trees for Life”, a TUT program that honors a loved one, living or deceased, through the planting of trees. For more information and/or to get involved in planting, please visit our website:

Patricia Ladley, a founding member of Trees Up Tompkins, resides in the Town of Ithaca, NY.

Signs of Sustainability is organized by Sustainable Finger Lakes.

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