Earth Day 2007

On or about Earth Day, or Arbor Day, spring in Northern California’s Santa Clara valley is a magical time when the clouds often hang wet in the western skies all day, progressing with moderate winds into the valley over hills that are green year-round. Winds from the west bring ionized and pristine moisture blown in from the Pacific Ocean, scented by the mountain forests, and clearing the senses wonderfully.

Don’t bother me, I’m planting trees.

Saturday, April 21st was a day to plant trees. For eleven years, as of 2007, I’ve been fortunate enough to make it back each spring to a small sliver of West San Jose called Westmont High School to plant trees. The sprawling campus was dedicated in 1965, and still has huge areas of open land that just beg for trees. Now Redwoods grow on the fringes of the lawns, Ash and Sycamore shelter the parking lots and pathways, and new, genetically engineered disease resistant American Elm are skattered about the campus and have begun to thrive.

Today was a particularly gratifying day, because we planted nearly two dozen trees, including Oaks around the football field which, along with a track, is inside a sunken bowl. Along the sides of the bowl these dozen or more Oaks joined about a half dozen Oaks planted in earlier years, and similarly, along the discus field west of the football field and track, several Ash, Elm, and Sycamore joined a grove already there.

Near the varsity baseball field, we planted a beautiful Maple, the first one over there, amidst groves of Sycamore, Ash, Redwoods, Cedar and Pine. Along the San Thomas Creek, that borders the entire northern length of the campus, the great Native Valley Oak and Western Sycamore can shake to their roots during the winds of May. But on this day in late April the weather was tranquil, and leaves burst from buds in the warm sun.

Getting water to these newly planted trees is always our next challenge, especially during their first summer. No urban environment can be entirely natural. Some of the trees in some of the places, such as Redwoods, are never completely independent of watering systems. But I hope as we become a more efficient society we don’t decide that Redwoods can’t exist except in their native realms.

On the football field there is now a spectacular artificial turf. It is a great amenity, but I can’t help thinking how many irrigation systems could have been installed for the cost of that carpet. Watering lawns is water recycling if you ask me – we’re returning the water to nature, and water is life. The more we water, the better it is for our environment. If we are returning the water to the earth or the air, by watering trees or sprinkling grass, why shouldn’t we? Maybe when this installation of artificial turf needs replacement the school can try an actual lawn again.

A tough California Live Oak goes in.

On brisk days in spring, if not all the time, Westmont High School has an exceedingly beautiful campus. To the south and west, and only a few miles away, the green ramparts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, half-mile high forested ridgelines, loom benevolently in spring mists that sparkle in the sun.

In the bowl, along the edges of the discus field, where grass remains, trees with leaves softer than California Live Oak are planted – the Sycamore and Ash and Elm. In the rock strewn slopes of the bowl, these tough native California Coastal Live Oak should nonetheless thrive. The new Elms near the softball field are doing well, and the Redwood groves behind the varsity third baseline are starting to get pretty tall. The parking lots have Ash and Sycamore that could use a pruning, but many are over 20 feet tall. They would all soon be that tall and taller with a good pruning.

Bordering Westmont’s campus to the south, along some parking lots and along Westmont Ave. east of the school buildings, dozens of mature Cork Oaks grow, as well as many young replacements. Running in the other direction along Westmont Ave., proceding along an endless expanse of playing fields west of the school buildings, are a spectacular row of over 30 Yarwood Sycamores, most of them already 20-30 feet tall.

When the sun sets on the longest day of the year, this west/northwest straight-away on Westmont Avenue points precisely at the setting sun. Westmont High School’s arboretum is alive and well, and Earth Day 2007 was a very good day indeed.

2 Responses to “Earth Day 2007”
  1. Actually if designed correctly the artificial turf field will help to place water where it is needed.

    The turf was installed due to the advantages it offered over excessively used grass fields that cannot grow real grass due to over use.

    Yes, turf costs more, but the playing fields can then be used consistently over and over without wearing out the grass.

    This conserved the grass and nature more so than real grass athletic fields. catch the water from the field into a pond, then use an irrigation system to pump pond water to the trees and areas that need the water. This is true water conservation.

    Thank You!

  2. Ed Ring says:

    Chris – Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but the grass and the mud was always a part of a good soccer game in winter – it wasn’t football season that used to chew up the field, it was soccer. Then every year in late summer a crew would come out and resod the field, beautiful green grass would flourish anew, and on an auspicious day in early September they’d burn another gridiron. It was wonderful. What’s wrong with a little mud?

    You have offered some well reasoned arguments regarding water harvesting from the giant outdoor carpet. Are you aware that in many parts of the US, it is actually necessary to water artificial turf, just to cool it off because otherwise it becomes too hot to play on? From a cost standpoint, these fields only last for about 10 years, and especially if you are also adding water harvesting ponds, the long-term costs for a plain old grass field are lower.

    I think in certain high usage environments maybe it isn’t practical to go with grass anymore. But something is lost. To me grass and mud on a sports field is like mom and apple pie.


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