The flatbed truck loaded with tree trunks passed my car in Golden Gate Park. I was struck by the contrast of an evergreen-lined boulevard and the dozen redwoods felled by chainsaws, lying in a sad heap on their journey to a lumber yard.
My chest tightened and I tried, but was unable, to hold back tears. In my imagination, the tree sprites whispered their wish for a tree guardian to stop the clear-cutting of land. I pondered how trees provide beauty, shelter, fuel, food, and clean air. Trees inspire art and poetry, by arousing emotions and filling our senses. Trees stand for our best qualities such as peace, courage, compassion, generosity and happiness.
That moment, the seed of a tree poem sprouted into a little sapling. These lines poured from my mind without a single edit:
Everything good begins with me,
the acorn told its mother tree,
and drifted on the dancing breeze.
to find a cloak of golden leaves.
I worked at my writer’s desk for months on my ode to the forest. On the wall above me, was a bulletin board tacked with photos of trees I grew up with. There was the Ponderosa pine at our summer lake home that I measured my height by, the cherry tree I climbed which provided enough sweet fruit to fill a pail (and my belly), and the white pom-pom tree I lay beneath as it shed in the wind and sprinkled me with fairy petals. (My father preferred a pristine lawn so he vacuumed up the “mess” with a Hoover upright every Sunday.)
Eighteen months later, Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, published The Happiness Tree on recycled paper using soy ink. We included in the back matter an index of state trees and information about how to plant trees through the Arbor Day Foundation. I visited schools with my puppet, TREEna and taught the students—the next generation’s tree guardians—this pledge:
I promise to care for the birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and wildlife nestled in the branches of trees.
I will protect the trees in my community.
I will water my trees.
I will sit beside my trees.
I will start with my heart and my own little patch of earth.
From seed of hope to forest of happiness, I invite tree-huggers of all ages to celebrate Earth Day every day. Adopt a tree in your neighborhood and watch it thrive through the seasons.
Andrea Alban (a.k.a. Andrea Gosline) is the author of three picture books, including The Happiness Tree, currently traveling with the OUT ON A LIMB exhibit through children’s discovery museums in the U.S. and Canada. Her debut novel, Anya’s War, is an A.L.A. honor book. Visit her at www.andreaalban.com