Trees Up Tompkins: Working for the Common Good

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Tompkins Weekly 10-14-20

By Patricia Ladley

Do you remember your mother’s instruction, so often repeated: “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you”? Mother Earth also has something to say to her children: “Plant trees. They’re good for you!”

These amazing beings we call trees not only provide beauty and support biodiversity, but they also filter air pollution, help manage stormwater runoff, lower temperatures and draw down CO2 from the atmosphere. In short, trees improve the health and well-being of the local communities in which they are planted, valued and nurtured to maturity.

In the spring of 2019, the Museum of the Earth hosted a course presented by the Pachamama Alliance, a global community with the goal to create a sustainable future for all, called “Drawdown — the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The course was based on the book of the same name, edited by Paul Hawken. (Learn more at the Project Drawdown website.) At the completion of the course, eight of us decided to continue the conversation.

Trees Up Tompkins members plant trees on September 20, 2020. Photo provided.

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. We 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 trees.

Trees Up Tompkins (TUT) was born. Our mission is to work toward climate health and the health of our community by drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere through the planting of native trees on available land in Tompkins County.

After a year of planning, we decided on a planting site at Lighthouse Point, a piece of land owned by the city of Ithaca that juts out into Cayuga Lake. Graciously, the city donated a truckload of mulch and water access for our first planting.

Throughout the summer, in all kinds of weather and with sometimes backbreaking effort, family, friends and neighbors volunteered with us to clear an invasive shrubbery called privet from approximately 2,500 square feet of land.

On Sept. 20, 2020, joined by members of First Unitarian Universalist Society of Ithaca, TUT members planted more than 50 native trees and shrubs at Lighthouse Point. These carbon-sequestering marvels — chestnut, red oak, silver maple, white spruce and other native species — now grace the clearing.

Local residents, who regularly hike the trail to the Lighthouse, now welcome the beauty of the newly planted trees. In addition, through this planting, TUT is collaborating with Cayuga Bird Club to restore the area and provide a welcome bird habitat. Something beautiful is happening here.

In the Drawdown course, we discovered that afforestation ranks 15th out of 100 solutions to reverse global warming. We learned that afforestation means planting trees on land that is unattended, forgotten or treeless for the purpose of drawing down atmospheric carbon and distributing it into the soil.

We learned that climate scientists project that by 2050, the use of marginal lands for afforestation could sequester 18.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 18 billion metric tons of water. And most importantly, we learned that we could muster the will and the skill to plant trees right here in our community.

Partially funded by a Neighborhood Mini-Grant from Sustainable Tompkins, members of TUT are committed to continuing to clear the invasive privet and to planting trees at Lighthouse Point into the future. As Margot Brinn, West Hill resident and TUT member observed, “We may never see the fruition of our labors; this is our legacy for our children and our children’s children.”

Naturalist J.M. Slim Hooey put it this way.

“I have come to terms with the future,” Hooey said. “From this day onward, I will walk easy on the earth. Plant trees … I will restore the earth where I am.”

TUT warmly welcomes community involvement in ongoing tree-planting projects. One can contribute time, energy and sweat equity (at one’s comfort level) 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 on how to do that, and/or to get involved in planting, please visit our Facebook page or email

Participants in the Trees for Life program receive a memorial card that includes this poem. We offer it as a meditation on the gift of trees to our community and our good Earth.


Speak to me of wisdom, you old ones
Speak to me of hope, you tender young.

I stand in silent wonder
at the beauty of your being,
the mystery, the gift.

Rejoice, you say, rejoice!
Being thanks for life,
shout Hallelujah!

Patricia Ladley, founding member of Trees Up Tompkins (TUT), coordinates Trees for Life. Retired educator, co-founder of People for a Healthy Environment, Inc., facilitator of Pachamama Alliance Symposia, long-time environmental and social justice advocate, she resides in the town of Ithaca and is grandmother to four beautiful children.

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