The Tree as a Living Thing and Forest Conservation
I came to tell you a little bit about the tree as a living thing. Probably most folks do not realize that the tree is a living, breathing organism. We know it in a sort of an abstract sense, and yet we are not likely to be actively conscious of the fact that it is a living, breathing organism. As a matter of fact the tree is just as much alive as a man. It not only breaths, but it has a circulation, it digests its food, it has sex processes.
The tree breathes largely through its leaves and I hope sometime all of you may take occasion to examine the leaf of a tree under a microscope. On the upper side you will see a myriad of cells or little openings into which the air penetrates just as truly as it does into the human lungs. In those cells the air is separated into its parts, the carbon dioxide is extracted from the air and is used as a part of the food material of the tree, or the plant. As a matter or fact the tree is just a big plant taken by and large and the oxygen is thrown off for the benefit of man and all animal life. The process is opposite from that in our bodies. There is no bellows in the breathing process in the leaf, but the breathing is just as real and just as vital as in our bodies, and it continues as long as the leaves are green.
There is also a complete circulation in the tree. Of course it doesn't move around and around rapidly in response to heart action, and yet it does run the complete course from the little hair roots down in the ground up to the leaves and back again.
Just imagine you are looking at a cross section of a tree, that is the same as the top of a stump, and of course in these days when it is a popular pastime to cut trees down, you can find stumps anywhere. Imagine you are looking at the top of a stump. In the center you see the pit that was there from the time it was a baby, around that is a layer of wood which represents the first year's growth. Around that is a second layer of wood which represents the second year's growth. Around that is a third layer of wood which represents the third year's growth, and so on to the bark.
In the beginning when the tree was young and small the central cells were not only structural supports as they are all the time but they were active sap carrying tissue. The cells of a tree overlap each other and they are hollow. In the beginning when they are young there is an opening from one cell to another. So, when the tree was young and smart these central cells were active sap carrying tissue and it was through them that the sap moved upward. But as the, tree grew in size the central cells became more fined up with mineral elements and therefore more dormant, so, as you go outward toward the bark you find the lust few outside layers of wood, the active sap carrying tissue in those largely. The sap travels upward from the roots to the leaves, imagine, if you will, that you had the power to take from the ground a tree and wash the dirt away from the roots.
If you uprooted a tree and washed the dirt away you would see a magnificent structure, a wonderful top balanced by an equally large and magnificent root system. If the top is 50 feet across, the root area is also approximately fifty feet, and at the end of that root system largely are the little hair roots that take up the food in liquid form, send it up through the sap wood of the trunk, out to the leaves, where it undergoes a marvelous change, it is transformed, and then it comes back in the inner cells of the bark, in its digested form, depositing itself all the way down until finally some of it reaches the same little roots from whence it came—so you have a complete circulation that is active as long as the leaves are green.
May I suggest that in order to have that circulation you must have leaves, because they are the vital connecting link, and that is why I suppose God Almighty put the leaves on trees. It is one of the reasons, anyway, and it is why there is such a terrible crime in chopping the tops of trees off, that I will refer to later.
The digestion which occurs in the leaf is one of the most interesting things that happens in all the realms of life. I shall make bold to say that the leaf, speaking broadly, is the most important thing in the world. Of course I expect you to challenge that because it is a ridiculous thing to say that anyone thing is more important than anything else, and yet if you will bear with me I think I can make my case.
In order to illustrate what I have in mind I want to relate a story that I read in the New York Times in 1921. You will remember then that the great famine was sweeping over Russia. They were starving to death literally by the hundreds of thousands. The situation was so bad that some of the big city newspapers sent their special correspondents to Russia to inquire into the situation and report by daily letter. In one of these stories I read this incident: the correspondent told how one day they came upon a house where a little child was sick on a couch, covered with a quilt, and it looked as though there were a pillow under the quilt. Its eyes were still and glassy, staring straight upward, it was all but dead. The correspondent looked at the child and looked at the mother and she divining his purpose pulled back the quilt and disclosed a horrible, misshapen body, its little stomach was horribly distended, very much like a kewpie, its arms and legs were emaciated, it was just about breathing its last.
And then she told what had happened. She said hunger had driven them so far that they had fed this child blue clay, the clay stuck to the teeth and the walls of the stomach and would for the time being stay the pangs of hunger, but there was no power in the human system to throw it off, so it lay there. Finally the worms started to work and the end was near.
I tell that story realizing that there is in it a touch of horror because it illustrates and emphasizes a profound truth, there are only two minerals that man can take into his system and assimilate—water and salt, and those only in limited quantities. Everything else we eat and almost everything we wear comes to us through the leaves of vegetation. It is the leaf, speaking of vegetation generally, that takes the dead mineral elements from the soil and transforms them into living cells. The leaf is the one and only connecting link between the organic world and the inorganic world, meaning the world of living cells on the one hand and the world of dead mineral plants on the other. The leaf is the only thing that has the power to transform dead matter into living matter, and therefore it is the foundation of all life. No life could exist upon this earth if it were not for that vital function performed by leaves, and that is why I say the leaf is the most important thing in the world.
The tree has sex processes also that are just as real and just as beautiful as in any other form of life. The male and female exist as positive factors. Sometimes you find the male and female in the same flowers, at other times in different flowers on the same tree, and sometimes the flowers of a tree are all male or all female, the pollen is created in the male parts and is carried partly by the wind and partly by insects to the female organs where conception takes place and the continuity of life is made possible.
Perhaps you have noticed in the early spring that a tree of a certain kind may come into flower earlier than another tree of the same variety. That which comes into flower earlier is the male, to be ready for its mate.
In all of these elemental facts the tree is just as much alive as man himself and it presents an exceedingly interesting thing for one who is willing to think, to observe, to learn.
I wish that it might be possible for people generally to see more into the great world of living things all about us. So often it happens that people go through the world and see almost nothing of the world in which they live. I think perhaps the most beautiful tribute to a tree that I ever heard was told by the President of the Elyria Ohio Rotary Club when I went down there several years ago to give this little talk on trees. In introducing me he related this experience from his own life.
He said, "I have the most wonderful tree in the world at my house. Some fifteen years ago I had a little boy who was then three years of age. In the early fall he would go out to gather up the buckeyes, sometimes by pockets full and sometimes by baskets full, and bring them in and play with them. One day he took sick; the next day he was better. He went out as usual. This time he brought in just one large fine buckeye and played with it, and the next day he died.
"I took that large fine buckeye and carried it with me all the long winter. I would take it out every little while and look at it and was reminded of him. Then, when the spring came, I went out and planted it down under his sand pile. Later the sand pile was taken away, the buckeye sprouted and came up a healthy little plant. I built a fence around it and told the boys of the neighborhood that they might break anything, anything I had, the windows of my house or anything but please not to break this tree. They have respected my request and it stands there today, fifteen years old, the most wonderful tree in the world."
I thought as I listened to that story, that there was in this little tree not alone a monument to a little boy who died, but also a monument to a father's love. I wish that it might be possible for people to see something more in trees than just an accident, because as a matter of fact God Almighty put the trees here to help adorn the world.
I have sometimes wondered what this world would be if we could remove from it all of the really fine things, if we could remove music, literature, art and religion and the beauty of the great outdoors—that great unmatched beauty of the world of living things. I have wondered what this world of ours would be.
Have you ever thought of the immense importance of foliage? To the beauty of the world; to its livableness? Just remember, after the leaves have gone, this fall, when there is no blanket of white snow to cover the earth—then again in the early spring when the snow has gone, or is dirty. Look out across the landscape and see how ugly and barren it is. Then notice as the leaves come out and the grass comes forth, what a wonderful change there is with this color of green, this blanket of green that God put here to cover up the ugliness of a naked world.
That is why it seems to me that we are likely to under estimate or perhaps neglect to think about the importance of trees to the world way beyond the question of their practical utility. It seems to me that God must have known his business when he caused trees to grow upon this earth.
You know there is one thing that does arouse me tremendously and that is to see the terrible butchery of trees. Almost everywhere I go I see this slaughter, very largely by the telephone and electric light companies—sometimes by, well, I will call them "tree-quacks", sometimes by well-meaning but ignorant tree owners who permit it. God intended that the tops should be on the trees. I am not saying that there is never a time when trees should not be cut back because sometimes it is necessary, if it is done right, but as a general proposition I think it is the most inexcusable thing that any man can be guilty of, to slaughter the trees as they grow.
This is what happens: you cut the top of a tree off and you immediately destroy its circulation, and then naturally in her desperation she forces out the latent buds along the side of the stump, and presently you have a new and rather vigorous growth of new shoots, and that is what deceives a lot or people. They overlook the fact that the stump sticking up there is a constant invitation to disease.
Science has demonstrated diseases in trees as it has in other forms of life. In trees it is called fungi, a parasite by nature; it lives by tearing down some other form of life.
Now, wherever you see a decaying tree there is disease working and in a certain time of the year it throws out to the surface of the bark what they call fruiting bodies. You have seen them on the outside of trees; they look more or less like toadstools. Those fruiting bodies give off a myriad of microscopic spores that float through the air and most of them fall to the ground harmless, but some of those spores find lodgment in an open wound. It doesn't make any difference what causes the wound, it may be lightening or it may be a lawnmower in the hands of some careless man, anything that breaks the bark causes a wound and in to that wound some of these spores find their way and they start to grow, to send out their little threadlike tentacles, very much like cancer, and they travel up and down from one cell to another, eating, or consuming the cells. That is what they live on, and finally you have internal decay. What we call decay is merely the result of this active disease that is working on the inside. You cannot have anything worse than a horizontal wound in a tree. You look at that wound under a microscope and it is very much like a sponge because the cells are hollow and you cut right across them and there you have your sponge-like effect, a constant invitation for the spores of the fungi to find lodgment there and start to grow and just as sure as the sun rises and sets there will be a decay because there is no life in that stump, there cannot be any life without leaves, so, down to the point where the new growth starts the decay proceeds and goes constantly on and on into the wood of the tree and after a while you have nothing but a mere shell, and so this thing that deceives people, this vigorous new growth in the little branches that are forced out from the latent buds is a screen to hide the ravages of disease in the wound.
But even if it didn't cause the destruction of the trees through disease and decay I cannot imagine why anybody can see beauty in a tree that is beheaded. I wonder sometimes what has become of men's sense of beauty.
I heard a story from a member of Congress that interested me very much. I want to tell it to you now because I think it is more or less apropos to this band of tree butchers that we find in America.
I had related in one of my talks in the House this little story about the buckeye tree, and after I sat down a member of the House from Florida came over and sat down beside me and told me that he wanted to relate an experience that he had the preceding summer. Now this gentleman was an old, white haired man, one of the most portly gentlemen that I have ever met, a man perhaps in the late sixties with wonderful poise and self control. I have never seen him excited, and I have never seen him over enthuse. He related his little story somewhat like this, he said:
"When I was young and our first and only son was born my mother proposed that we plant a magnolia tree in the front yard in his honor. Being young and more or less irresponsible I laughed at the idea, but she persisted, so we planted a magnolia tree.
"The first time it bloomed was when he was graduated from high school; the next time it bloomed was when his sister was graduated. Then several years passed. The boy went away to war. In the war he contracted an incurable disease. He came back and lingered for a while, and finally passed away.
"Last summer they were going to widen the street in front of my house, and probably cut down that magnolia tree, so I went to see the city engineer. I said to him, Sir, I understand that you are going to widen the street in front of my house. He said, 'yes, that is the plan.' I said, 'Sir, I understand you plan to cut down the magnolia tree in my front yard.' He said, 'Well I am afraid we will have to.' 'Well, Sir, I came to tell you I shall shoot the man who cuts that tree.' He said, 'Do you mean it?' I said, 'Sir, I mean it. 'The man who cuts that tree I shall shoot and kill him.' 'Well,' he said, 'it won't be cut. "
Sometimes I think that is about the kind of treatment that is necessary to stop this unending slaughter of America's trees. I see it everywhere I go, tens of thousands of them absolutely slaughtered and ruined.
So far as telephone and electric light men are concerned I will make the statement that not more than 15% or 20% of the cutting is necessary that is usually done to get all of the wire clearance that is reasonably necessary for those wires to go through. I know because we have done a reasonable amount of it and have secured clearance, ample clearance with only a moderate amount of cutting. We cleared the trees in my home town for the telephone company there and didn't cut a single limb bigger than your thumb and gave them ample clearance. I think it is the most damnable slaughter, the most useless sacrifice of beauty that I know of in America, and sometimes I think the only kind of treatment that will answer is the kind of treatment that the tree butchers mete out to trees.
That may sound a little harsh and yet I want to say, gentlemen that these men who slaughter the trees of America in this way defy all the laws of our country and all the laws of decency. They know no law and no restraint, only the law of force.
I had an experience down in my home town—the telephone company was proposing to stretch a new line along the main street where I live and it is a beautiful street—I didn't make it so—the main street, where I live, the foresight of men fifty or seventy-five years ago made my street beautiful, and I was afraid of what would happen, so I called up the manager of the telephone company and asked him what their program was. He said, "Well, we will have to put the wires through." I said, '''Does that mean cutting?" "Well," he said, "No more than is necessary."
Well, I said, "Now listen, don't you cut any of those trees on the street where I live." He said, "what do you mean'?" I said, "I want to be perfectly frank with you, I have got a gun in the house, and the first fellow who undertakes to cut those trees I am going to use the gun on him, I know how to use it and it is in first class condition." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I mean business." Well, as a matter of fact the trees weren't cut.
I know of a case down in Poland, Ohio where one determined man in that community by his own force kept the electric light company from despoiling the trees that were a century old and were the pride and the glory of that community, the trees that made the town worth living in.
It seems to me that what we need is just a little more of the fighting spirit out of which America was born in order to protect the rights of the public.
Speaking along that line makes me think of the story about the minister who was lecturing his congregation on the subject of heaven and hell—an old fashioned subject. They used to talk a good deal about it, some of our modern ministers lecture on sociology, and books and theatres, and so forth, it used to be that they talked about heaven and hell. Anyway this must have been an old fashioned sort of minister because he proceeded at some length to plead with his congregation about this subject of great importance.
Finally after he had finished he said to them, "Any of you who want to go to heaven, stand up." They all stood up except one old fellow who was asleep. They sat down and he said, "Any of you who want to go to hell, stand up." The old fellow woke up just in time to hear the last part of it and he stood up and looked the minister straight in the eye. The minister looked at him and said, "My good man do you know what you are standing up for?" He said, "I do not, but you and I seem to be the only ones for it."
Now, with your permission I would like to talk for just a little while about another subject which seems to me of great and far-reaching importance and that is the question of forest devastation. I am interested in it tremendously because it seems to me that this question of forest is one of the things that project themselves farther into the future of our country than most of the things that we ordinarily concern ourselves with. I call you to witness that we have lived through every tariff law that was ever enacted whether it be a high tariff, or a low tariff, and we have lived through every tax bill, high or low, somehow we have lived through it, and we have lived through a lot of other laws, good and bad, but there are some things that no nation can live through and remain great and strong and one of those is the destruction of the great natural wealth that only God can make. I have reference particularly to the destruction of America's forest wealth.
A hundred and fifty years ago America became a new nation and this land was endowed by the creator with a greater quantity probably of natural wealth than any nation in the history of the world, and we started in with a prodigal hand to spend it as fast as we could go.
Those of our forefathers who landed in Virginia under Captain John Smith sent back word to the mother country that they had discovered a land of inexhaustible fertility, and so it seemed, but you can go into Virginia today and buy thousands of acres almost for a song because it has been robbed of its fertility, it lacks the power of producing things in sufficient quantity to pay for cultivation. As a matter of fact I see an increasing number of abandoned farms from the Atlantic Seaboard west. In my own county there are 400 abandoned farms and this section was settled less than 200 years ago. Those of our forefathers who landed on the coast of New England carne face to face with a wonderful covering of trees, trees everywhere and yet today the New England states have exhausted four fifths of their original lumber supply; half of their remaining supply is in the State of Maine that is largely pulp wood varieties. They already import 30% of their own consumption and will import more and more as time goes on. Even the great Empire State of New York that once was the greatest producer of lumber in the Union today produces only 10% of its own consumption. They produce 30 board feet per capita every year and use 300. Penn's Woods, Pennsylvania, named because of its wonderful covering of trees has so far exhausted its supply of timber that they produced today less than enough for the Pittsburgh district alone, about 20% of their own consumption. The great lake states where there was a wonderful supply of magnificent white pine—that is almost gone. The original supply was estimated to have been 350 billion board feet, and it is now reduced to 8 billion, and it will be all gone in perhaps ten or fifteen years.
The wonderful supply of yellow pine in the south Atlantic and Gulf States is four-fifths gone.
So I might go on and tell you the story, step by step, but the last report of the United States Forest Service tells us that the entire eastern half of the United States will be stripped bare of its timber from a commercial standpoint within twenty-five years. Of course there will be many individual trees, but speaking commercially the eastern half of the United States faces a lumber shortage, or exhaustion. And also that same report says that the apparently inexhaustible supply in the far west will be all gone in thirty-five or forty years, according to the present rate of consumption because as each section is stripped of its timber it lays a heavier and heavier demand on the remaining sections.
One of the men with our company—that is the Davey Tree Expert Company (incidentally I have to stay in business to make the money I spend in politics) one of the men with our company was working in Mississippi last winter. He knew I was interested in this subject of conservation and he wrote to me about the conditions he found in the little town down there. He said the town had been built around the lumber industry and the whole supply was exhausted so the company had been bringing logs from the Pacific Coast by way of the Panama Canal, up through the Gulf of Mexico by rail so this little town in Mississippi could keep alive. That is not an isolated case; there are many many communities that have almost ceased to exist because of the exhaustion of the lumber supply.
I was told last summer by a representative of the United States Forest Service that one-fifth of the timberland in the state of Michigan had gone back to the state for nonpayment of taxes. It is land good for nothing else except growing trees and the trees have been so entirely cut away, the land has no more value, and nobody wants it, so they dumped it back on the state for the rest of the people to carry the load.
However, the question of lumber supply is only one phase of this far-reaching proposition. I sometimes wonder how we would carry on in our scheme of civilization if we ran out of lumber. Stop to think of all the things into which lumber enters and ask yourselves how we would maintain our scheme of civilization, our standard of living and progress, without lumber, and you have some idea of the magnitude of the problem.
But that isn't all. I have in mind the terrible tragedy that we were reading about so much in the papers this Last spring when the flood waters were sweeping down through the Mississippi Valley. I am thoroughly convinced that the more serious aspects of that flood were due to the destruction of the trees around the headwaters of the streams that makeup the Mississippi. It wasn't the water that fell down into the Mississippi Valley, it was the water that fell in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana and Kentucky and Illinois, Wisconsin, Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa—all that great section where the trees have been cut away and the water sweeps quickly into the little streams and it pours rapidly into the larger streams and finally into the Father of Waters. And so the channel was just too small, it couldn't hold it, and we had a flood, and we will have more and more floods as the destruction continues because nature made the trees, the forest trees as a reservoir to hold the water back and let it seep out gradually.
Go out sometime into the woods and see the condition that the creator made. Look down at the wonderful soil, loose, porous, soil it is and take up a handful of it and see the provision that was made to absorb the moisture and then watch the water in imagination as it comes down from the heavens through the leaves and settles into this loose porous soil and follow it further, in imagination as it travels by underground channels to the little springs, and see how those springs feed the little streams, and they in turn feed the rivers, and thus you have a continuity of water supply.
But when man comes along in his breathless haste to get rich quick, or for some other reason and he cuts the trees away, allows the land to be burned over. When the rain descends from the heavens it sweeps across the surface of the land and takes with it the precious topsoil, precious top soil. It is said by scientists that it takes nature ten thousand years to make one inch of fertile top soil by the process of decaying vegetation, piling one little particle upon another—ten thousand years, and oh so little time to wash it away.
I stood by the Potomac River in Washington some two or three years ago when that stream was on the rampage and like all flood waters that stream was also muddy, and I thought to myself: what part of my country is making this terrible contribution to the sea? And then after the flood waters had subsided I went into Potomac Park again and there on the grass I saw an inch or two of precious top soil deposited there by the mad rushing waters, but only a little fraction of the enormous quantity that had been carried down to the ocean.
Reading in one of the News Weekly Magazines this last spring about the flood in the Mississippi I came across one paragraph that struck me with great force. It told how fishermen were coming back from the Gulf of Mexico and describing the condition of the water. It said that the Gulf Stream was actually becoming discolored by the prodigious quantity of soil carried down by this flood. It also told how great schools of fishes were coming far out into the Gulf in order to escape suffocation.
This question of the washing away of the precious topsoil it seems to me is one of the very serious aspects of our forest devastation policy, but that is only one side of it. There is also the question of adequate water supply. Our capital city, Columbus, Ohio several years ago was face to face with a water famine, the situation was so bad that they held prayer meetings calling upon God Almighty to save them from the threatened catastrophe—that is our human system, we do everything wrong then when we get into trouble we call upon God to pull us out of the hole. Anyway they had their prayer meetings and whether God answered their prayers we don't know, but a providential rain did come and averted this terrible catastrophe. Can you imagine anything more serious than a city of 300,000 people without water? Columbus secures its municipal supply from the Sciota River and that stream is all but dried up all because the trees and the vegetation had been cut away from its head waters, and so sometimes you have too much water and that causes a flood and then you have too little water at other times, and that causes a drought. That is a part of the penalty that man must pay for his folly and for his destruction.
There is another aspect to it that is both interesting and important. Scientists tell us that one tree in an average growing season throws into the air about five hundred barrels of water through its leaves by the process called transpiration. Just as our breath is laden with moisture so there is thrown out through the leaves great quantities of moisture in vapor form to remain in the air to be condensed and come back as rainfall. Then it is taken up again by vegetation and again it is thrown out in vapor form to be condensed once more and thrown out as rainfall. So you have the constant supply of water for all forms of life. .
You probably have heard the old saying about the sun drawing water, referring to evaporation. Science tells us there is infinitely more water thrown into the air through the leaves of vegetation than from all the evaporation and all the rivers and lakes in the ocean. It is a constant supply of moisture into the air by the process of transpiration through the leaves.
Speaking about conservation—I heard a story about a Scotchman that may interest you. I have a suspicion that maybe there are some Scotchmen here. Well, you know they have a reputation for being rather thrifty. I don't know whether it is true or not. Anyway this particular Scotchman was sitting in a hotel lobby feeling pretty blue and looking as though he were beyond the power of consolation. A stranger came by and asked him what the trouble was and Sandy said, "I am on my Honeymoon and I couldn’t afford to bring my wife."
Now I want to refer, in closing, to two other things, first to the tragic example of China because we have in the example of China ample evidence of' what may happen to America and a proper indication of what we ought to do.
China once had a wonderful covering of trees, very much like our own, perhaps not as fine and still a very wonderful covering and China did with her trees just exactly as we are doing with ours. She cut them away, allowed her land to be burned over and then the floods came and swept away her precious topsoil. China has become a land of perpetual famine. They only have one crop in seven years. In the other years of that period they must look to the world for food.
One of my brothers took a trip around the world some three or four years ago and he was interested in the subject just the same as I and when he returned he told me of his observations. He described how when they came up through the Yellow Sea he was impressed by the increasing chocolate color of the water and he wondered what its significance was. Then when they went out across the land and saw those miles and miles of barren land, he began to understand. He told me that he saw men and women and children out gathering weed stalks by the roadside with which to cook their rice, they had no wood for fuel, not even bushes, just weeds.
There are millions of acres of land in China where nothing grows at all, not even weeds, then there are other millions and millions of acres where nothing much more than weeds can grow, and so they have a land stripped of its fertility in large part with an enormous population, and I am afraid that the case of China is hopeless.
I wish that my country might profit by that example because no land in the history of the world ever survived the destruction of its great natural wealth. That land where Christ was born today supports only 10% of the population that it did 1900 years ago, because the land has been robbed of its fertility and fewer and fewer people can live there. Meanwhile the population of the world is increasing. This question of preserving the fertility of the soil so that it may grow food for man and animals and all forms of life I think is one of the great problems of this and future generations.
I am interested in this question because it affects my country. Possibly you and I may not see the severe consequences of our national folly, we may be dead and gone before its worst phases appear, but even so we have a very great responsibility for the safekeeping of this great heritage. Our America—we sing of it in song, we glorify it in our literature, but what is America? Is it land? Is it rivers and lakes or mountains? No. That isn't America, because this land was here many years ago and the same mighty rivers were flowing to the sea, long before civilization began and the same majestic mountains lifted their lofty summits to the skies before man was, and even the same stars twinkled in the nighttime before there was any life upon this globe. No—America is a great human thing, a great new system, and philosophy of government. America is people and those things which affect people are the things of supreme and lasting importance. Nothing is of greater significance than the destruction of the basic wealth upon which people exist.
I am tempted to relate to you the little story of my good old father, because it was from him that I received my first inspiration in the cause of conservation, from his lips years ago I heard the story. He was born in, England at a time when there were no public schools, and he was twenty-one before he knew his ABC’s. That is almost inconceivable to us in this country where education is free, but it was the general rule then in England because only the children of the aristocracy had the advantages of education. So he started in as a full grown young man to learn to read by the slow painful process of self-education. He began with a little copy of the New Testament and a little dictionary, picking out one word at a time until he finally acquired a grammar so that he might learn to put the words together properly.
He showed me one time not very long before he passed away the old faded copy of the New Testament from which he learned to read and on it there was a brown spot where a drop of milk had fallen as he studied while he milked in the long ago. Then, like millions of other sturdy sons of Europe he heard the call of America, this great land of freedom and opportunity, and he came here to work out his destiny. He pursued his education still further studying by night and working by day until he finally acquired an education that would have done credit to the average college graduate, and I sometimes think a more profound education. But one of the things that impressed me most about him was the fad that he became one of the really fine Americans that it has been my privilege to know. He learned every word of our Constitution, every word of it. He learned every word of every verse of America and every word of the Star Spangled Banner, and until old age laid its heavy hand upon him he could sing those songs with a zeal and a fervor that were good to see. He became a full citizen under our law at the first opportunity, and he told me of that sacred day when he raised his right hand and foreswore allegiance to the British Crown and swore allegiance to the flag of America, and his eyes filled with tears as he described that most sacred day of his life.
I saw him from the time I was a little fellow, and long before I could comprehend the significance of it, every time he passed by Old Glory he tipped his hat in veneration.
I think perhaps there is something in that story for you and for me, for those of us who were born here, those of us who were privileged to come here by choice to make this a home because this great wonderful America, this new nation is a rich heritage, America is only a hundred and fifty years old, that is only two normal life times. It seems quite a while to talk about a hundred and fifty years, but just a little while ago we were reading about King Tut who reigned in Egypt thirty-five hundred years ago, and as we look back across the long span of time we begin to realize how very young America is, because in that period of thirty-five hundred years we can see countless nations rise and fall, kingdoms and principalities and powers almost without number come and go and then we realize how very young America is and when we take an inventory of our situation we realize how far we have gone on the road of destruction.
We have spent the principal of our inheritance faster than any people that ever lived, and some day we shall pay a tragic price.
America is ours only for safekeeping, we do not own it. Oh I know the land stands in our names at the court houses, if we own it, but we only have it so long as we may live, and then according to the laws of nature we must pass it on to other generations that are yet to come. This country, great and wonderful as it .is came into our keeping as stewards to use and to enjoy for a little while, and then we must pass it on and when we received our America with all of its matchless and manifold blessings we received also a great and everlasting responsibility to keep our America as great and as wonderful and as worthwhile as it was when we received it.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention
August 22, 23, 24 and 25, 1927