I think that I shall never see
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
- Joyce Kilmer
As we come to the end of another year, tribute is paid to those who have made the world a better place. Whether they are poets, environmentalists, health-givers, all these persons have healed the world in some way.
“Trees” is one of my mother’s favorite poems. Its author, Joyce Kilmer, died young in the First World War. The poem came to mind when tree-cutters began to hack down the first of 1,300 trees in Geneva to make way for the rail-line (CEVA) which will connect the train station to Annemasse, situated on the opposite side of the lake: slaughtering hundreds of trees, many 50, 100 years old, in order to be able to move Geneva’s growing population and work-force at faster pace.
When I think of trees, I think of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan woman who planted a billion trees, a woman who had the courage to keep advocating for the environment and women despite being persecuted and beaten by government officials, a woman whose faith allowed her to dream that a poor girl from the Kenyan countryside could change the world.
Her tree initiative mobilized more than 100,000 women to plant 30 million trees across Kenya. She became the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. In 1977 she founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization created to help restore the indigenous forests of Kenya. She died of cancer on 25 September 2011.
In 2006, Wangari Maathai wrote “Unbowed: A Memoir” which has been hailed as a “call to arms for all of us who feel that the planet is overwhelmed by careless, corrupt or violent leadership” (Alexandra Fuller). The Washington Post called her memoir a story which provides “uplifting proof of the power of perseverance – and of the power of principled, passionate people to change their countries and inspire the world.”
As we move towards a new year, let us all be inspired by the example of persons like Wangari Maathai, Rachel Carson and so many others. One small gesture towards a healthier planet can indeed make the world a better place.
by Meris Michaels
(Thank you to Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her article about Wangari Maathai from 16 October 2006