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Natick - Local Town Pages

The Giving Tree

High school students planting trees last spring to kick off the Planting the Future program. Photo submitted

By Sean Sullivan

Want a free tree?
It’s a question we’re unlikely to be asked these days, as the need for housing grows and acreage for it does not. As Mark Twain’s classic quip goes, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”
Thus tree removal is likely to be a much more common service in ever-more crowded communities.

Winnie Martin, age 9, during the tiny forest planting project. Photo submitted


But a new effort in Natick is seeking to make the town’s greenery a little denser even as neighborhoods become more peopled.
“Planting the Future” is the name of the program, which will provide 50 trees to residents to plant on their property. Its title was coined by students of Natick High School’s Earth Club, and funding was supported by a grant.


The Natick Sustainability Committee, Department of Public Works, and students of Earth Club have all had a hand in ensuring the program takes root.
“Those same students have really been involved with the planting project,” said Jillian Wilson-Martin. She is Natick’s Director of Sustainability, and oversaw its Planting the Future program.
Last summer, Natick partnered with neighboring municipalities to collect data on heat dynamics throughout the town. The idea for the tree giveaway program sprouted from that effort.
Volunteers for the heat mapping program were asked to sample temperatures over the course of hot days throughout the summer. The heat maps that resulted from that data identified “hot spots,” places where temps tended to be higher and resisted cooling even as the sun reeded.
Unsurprisingly, it was areas with a dearth of tree cover where these micro heat waves most often occurred. Predominated by pavement and buildings, Natick’s downtown area stood out as a magnet for above-mean temperatures during the hottest months.
“In some places it never really cools down,” said Wilson-Martin. “Trees can really help with that.”
The heat map can be viewed on the town’s website, where Natick’s most stubbornly-hot spaces appear as a kind of red Rorschach blob among a sea of cooler yellow.
“We have this really awesome map,” said Wilson-Martin. 
But about those trees. Residents can apply for a free one, and people living near or in hot spots will be given priority. As of this writing, said Wilson-Martin, more residents had applied for a tree than could be accommodated.
The trees of course are native species, mature and tall enough to make their care and survival less challenging for their adoptive residents.
“These are not tiny little saplings,” said Wilson-Martin.
Planting the Future will focus this year on heat islands that congregate around Navy Yard and Natick Center Commuter Rail Station. Applicants living closest to those areas will be given consideration during the selection process.
Homeowners can also take advantage of Natick’s “setback” planting program, through which residents can also apply for a free tree. More of a co-parenting project, this effort has a few more strings attached.
For one, its trees must be set back no further than 20 feet from a public street boundary. This guideline is future-focused, designed so that mature trees decades hence will shade public sidewalks and roads with wide-reaching, leafy limbs.
It’s a sentiment and saying spanning centuries and cultures, but put poetically by writer Elton Trueblood: “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”
Natick’s setback program also provides that the town will plant the tree, and take care of it for the first three years of its life. It might be an especially attractive option for aspiring horticulturists who struggle to keep houseplants among the living.
The Planting the Future project in contrast is more hands-on. Homeowners plant and care for their adopted tree themselves, though the program’s website provides how-to resources for siting and raising a healthy specimen.
Speaking of Planting the Future, Natick tree-huggers have also been at the root of another recent transplant – the “Tiny Forest.” Adopting the Miyawaka method, named after the Japanese botanist who pioneered and popularized it, volunteers planned and planted a small cluster of closely-spaced, native trees.
The Tiny Forest is sited at Natick High school and is about six months old. Trees tend to be good neighbors to one another, offering shelter and support to those growing alongside them. Trees in a Miyawaka forest can grow up to ten times faster than those planted in a sparser setting. 
Civilization has in the main gone hand-in-glove with deforestation. But here’s an all-too uncommon word to add to your sustainability toolkit, its affirmative antonym: afforestation.                  
The title for this article is of course borrowed from the classic children’s book by Shel Silverstein. In that story, a boy befriends a tree in what turns out to be a one-sided relationship. The tree offers its limbs and lumber to fulfill every want and need of the boy as the two age together. When the latter finally returns as an old man, there’s nothing left but a stump for him to rest his weary bones upon. It’s at heart a tale about taking, without regard for the future.
Naturalist John Muir’s quote fits well here. “Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress.”

Story idea? Email Sean at [email protected]