Sunday Stories: The Wanton Destruction of Trees – October 1919

Laura Ingalls Wilder would have made an incredible blogger. We all know her from the wonderful “Little House” books, but did you know she was a farm journalist and a woman’s activist in the early years of the 20th century? Many years ago I discovered her columns in a book entitled: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little House in the Ozarks. A Laura Ingalls Wilder Sampler. The Rediscovered Writings Edited by Stephen W. Hines. This book was published in 1991, so it’s about time for the writings to be rediscovered again!

So here it is, from October 1919: The Wanton Destruction of Trees

The American Forestry Association has sent out a plea to make a great national road of memory of the Lincoln Highway by planting trees in memory of our national heroes all along its 3,000 miles.
Historical view of the Lincoln Highway tree lane at Duncan, Nebraska
Besides using our native trees, it is planned to bring over and plant Lombardy Poplars from France, chestnut and oak from England, and cherry and plum from Japan.

This plan for making a living memorial to American heroes has been endorsed by councils of Daughters of the Confederacy; and the Department of the Interior and the Forestry Department are aiding in the work.

For sentimental reasons alone such a memorial would be most wonderful, for while in life our heroes stood between us and danger, their memory would in this way still hover over us and give us comfort and pleasure, linked ever more closely to us by our loving thoughts in the planting and care of the living, breathing monument, which will reach across our common country from coast to coast.

As an example, such a great national tree-bordered highway might help us to realize the unnecessary ugliness of most of our country roads, and perhaps in time, they also may be tree-embowered and beautiful.
A modern view of the still-remaining Lincoln Highway tree lane at Duncan, Nebraska
Motoring on the Ozark highway the other day, I passed over a long stretch of the road where the large, beautiful native oak and walnut trees had been cleared away from beside it, leaving the roadway unshaded, bare, and ugly. A little farther on, I came to a place where the farmers on each side had set out young walnut trees in even spaces along the road in an attempt to put back the beauty and usefulness which had been destroyed by cutting down the forest trees.

It seems such a pity that we can learn to value what we have only through the loss of it. Truly “we never miss the water ‘till the well runs dry.’”.

People painstakingly raised shade trees on the bare prairies; but where we already had the shade and beauty of the forest we have carelessly failed to preserve it, and now in many places must carefully rebuild what we have destroyed, taking years to replace what was removed in only a few days.

While a drive along a shady roadway is much more pleasant than one on a hot and dusty road, still pleasure and beauty are not all that are to be considered. There is also a utility side to the idea of trees along the way, for they help to keep the roadbed in good condition by retaining moisture and preventing washing away of the soil.

In many parts of Europe the fruit and nut trees along the roads bring enough of an income to keep up the roads so that the people pay no road tax. Rather staggering, that idea of self-supporting roads to a people who spend so much for poor roads as we do. Another curious little fact in regard to trees in Europe is that anyone in Switzerland who cuts down a fest tree must plant another to take its place.
Handmade sign denoting the Duncan tree lane
Of course, in the clearing of our great new country, we could not do that; but we have destroyed trees when it was not necessary, seemingly through a spirit of wantonness, and so we have a double task before us; to plant trees where they did not grow and to replant in some places where they have been cut down. The work has been well started in some prairie states. Six thousand trees have been set out by the United States balloon school at Ft. Omaha.

People of wooded districts can save themselves much trouble and expense later by preserving the trees along the roadways, for I am sure the Lincoln Highway will set the fashion which all our country’s roads will follow in time.


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