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Plant an Acorn and Watch It Grow

One of my favorite expressions in response to a protest about inaction is “OK then, do something – actions speak louder than words.”

In the face of ongoing concern about the plight of our urban canopy and trees in general, I typically say “plant an acorn and watch it grow.” I would add that you should let a child help you, as there is a lesson here for the young and the old.

At the core of that lesson is that most things in life take time, like watching an acorn turn into a tree. The emergence of a seedling from the acorn is exciting to watch, as is the planting of a tree, but then we tend to forget to watch the progress of our tree over time. Humans are by nature, impatient. We want what we want now. Waiting is frustrating especially if our time and efforts will take years to achieve our goal.

This impatience was the basis of Steven Covey’s concept of the “Law of the Farm.” Covey used this phrase to describe our natural habit of taking shortcuts rather than doing the “work” necessary to achieve the best outcome. Using a farming example, the best outcome (a quality crop) is based on sequential steps of preparing the ground, planting the seeds, tending the crop, and harvesting at the right time. In the case of trees, we can skip the last one. But this process takes time and planning, and for large trees, many years.

So, back to my favorite expression, there is no time like the present to “do something” rather than just “talk about it.” Grab a child and collect some of those “many” acorns that Mississippi’s oaks have decided to produce this year and plant a few as a lesson about the “Law of the Farm.”

Take the time to plan about where you and that child may want to plant the seedling. Talk about what it might take to care for the young tree as it grows. Most important of all, talk about how what you do today will take years to unfold. The lesson about planning, doing, caring, and ultimately enjoying the benefits of the effort is the prize.

As for those acorns under our feet this year, live oaks are by far the best choice as they are strong, long-lived, and tolerant of a wide range of soil and moisture conditions. Once you collect your acorns, place them in a bucket of water to separate out those acorns that may be harboring a beetle or moth larvae. The air pockets in the acorns where these insects are residing will cause the acorn to float. Plant the sinkers! Any bucket or small container filled with soil on hand is fine. Live oak acorns will sprout soon after planting.

Remember, actions speak louder than words. I will shut up now so that “we” can take those actions that will last a lifetime but will have benefits along the way, for you, your children, and hopefully their children.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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