Planted.

Their tiny, intricate roots now grasp the soil beneath the surface of the rough terrain in search of nutrients and moisture. Their leaf buds reach up to the open sky above the now barren field. But their growth represents a much larger effort to establish a habitat. A future forest.

Despite the tender, loving care they’ve received during their short lives, some, sadly, will not survive.  Some won’t grow into the tall, sturdy trees we wish them to be.

But a majority of these delicate seedlings will develop their strength from the farthest tip of the roots all the way up to the tree tops. Their strength will provide a foundation that represents the beginning of a reforestation project that will beautify the land surrounding the crash site and national memorial of Flight 93.

I can only imagine how that land will fill out in 10, 15, 20 years. As I stood at the top of the 20-acre planting site yesterday morning in the crisp, cool air, I looked down upon the memorial, reflecting on my opportunity to be involved with such an impressive volunteer effort. I then made a mental note to myself to remember that perspective on the land to compare it to the view I hope to see upon a future visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

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I’ll remember standing in the empty field – where miners once worked in search of coal – but where I once worked one morning in search of the next best place to plant a tree. I’ll remember the cold, moist soil that covered my hands as I reached in the bucket of seedlings to grab my team’s next specimen, then laughing as my planting partner, Chris, made jokes with other members of our team.

I’ll also remember how I felt as I listened to representatives from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the National Park Service and more share their thoughts on the meaning and significance of our service. I’ll remember how great it felt to be there, to be part of the contribution.

I can’t imagine experiencing an Earth Day or Arbor Day celebration as special as the event I attended this weekend. Thinking ahead, I’m anticipating a beautiful summer scenery of thick, full branches upon both deciduous and evergreen trees that include the native species we planted, such as white pine and American chestnut. I want to see the end result of the “red streak” we planted, a path of trees that points in the direction of the crash site.

And I hope the families of the 40 United Airlines Flight 93 victims will enjoy and appreciate the presence of hundreds of thousands of strong, growing trees that represent the bravery and courage of their loved ones.

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