Unbroken boughs: Earth Day promotes opportunities for sustainability

A blackbird rode the currents of a recent breezy day, surveying possible nesting places. A 6-inch-long twig impeded her lift, but she eventually found her landing site atop the golden arches of a McDonald’s sign on Jefferson Davis Highway. For her, the sign was an unsatisfactory location to bring her brood into the world, so she hoisted her twig in search of a better neighborhood, apparently settling for the only tree leeward of her sign-top perch.

In 2001, the Woman’s Club of Chester compiled an action plan of more than 100 pages, titled Save Chesterfield’s Trees, that proclaimed “We need trees and trees need us.” The treatise expressed a problem: “Losing our trees has become a threat to the environment and beauty of our area.”

Earth Day, which is April 22, energizes millions of people to make personal commitments to sustainability. Sustainability includes preserving and planting trees, safeguarding the food supply through heirloom seeds and guaranteeing safe drinking water, among other things. This year is being called a “pivotal opportunity for individuals, corporations and governments” to join together in efficiency, conservation and preservation.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure, and Chester resident and former Chesterfield County Treasurer Arline McGuire has been instrumental in efforts to make sure all that is Chesterfield, including historic trees, endures. She, along with other members of the woman’s club, focused in on several Chesterfield trees that they nominated to the American Forests’ National Register of Famous and Historic Trees. One of the trees, the Chester Village Oak, was accepted and was included in the 2004 registry.

One would think the red maple called “Chester’s Tree” would have made the cut due to its flamboyant fall colors. In November 2000, Village News columnist Gustav Faeder poetically described the tree: “A perfect oval of orange proudly proclaiming her beauty, an orange that comes alive with hints of gold and tinges of salmon and marigold. Subtle shades of sunshine, changing as shyly as a youngster holding hands with his first love.”

“I really don’t know enough about how to tell how old they are, I just love trees,” McGuire said. “We really could use some county ordinances to protect older trees. It’s not something they can’t do.”

According to an article written as part of her historic tree project, Chesterfeild Historical Society member and county museum director Pat Roble described what is possibly Chesterfield’s most famous tree: “The ‘Nunnally Oak’ stands on the courthouse green of historic Chesterfield County. This mighty tree is named after Lawson Nunnally, who planted the tree as a sapling in 1814. Every 10 years since 1916, by order of the Circuit Court Judge of Chesterfield County, the girth of the Nunnally Oak is measured by high officials of the County in a formal ceremony. The measurements are then entered into the official records of the Chesterfield County Circuit Court. In 2001, the Nunnally Oak was measured and its girth was 17 feet, 3 inches.” It will be measured again next year.

While historic trees have been a passion of Roble’s, lately she has been busy with helping to raise money for the Historical Society by selling heirloom tomatoes. She had hundreds of plants, which she started in her greenhouse, for sale at Saturday’s Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce wine festival.

“We’re just trying to raise some money to help keep our historic sites open,” Roble said.

The tomato plants came with identifying labels and an identity key sheet that traced the history of each plant. Of particular interest are: The black cherry tomato, which is actually dark purple in color; the Anna Russian, which was given to an Oregon woman by her grandfather, who received it from a Russian immigrant; and the pink brandywine, an Amish family heirloom introduced to American gardeners in 1889.

Although the only event remotely related to Earth Day in Chesterfield is a “make a rain barrel” event scheduled for April 22, May 8 and May 18, the James River Regional Cleanup, also sponsored in part by the Friends of Chesterfield’s Riverfront, is seeking volunteers for its June 12 event. Last year’s James River Regional Cleanup involved 227 volunteers who collected 113 bags of trash, four tires and numerous pieces of fishing equipment and boating parts just from gathering locations at the Falling Creek Ironworks and Dutch Gap boat landing. Participants can register for both of these events online at chesterfieldriverfront.org.

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