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This Christmas he wants to give the gift of trees

December 10, 1998

When I look at my Christmas tree, I realize how much I have changed over the 55 years of my life.

I used to be a real traditionalist. A Christmas tree had to be the real thing, freshly cut and laden with ornaments that had been in my family forever. About 10 years ago, however, the environmentalist in me started objecting to cutting live trees. I kept doing it, however. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my Christmas traditions.

[cont. from lifestyle]

I eased my conscience by putting the tree out in the yard after Christmas to provide shelter for wild birds. And after all the needles were gone, I threw it in the pond to make a different kind of shelter for spawning fish and frogs.

But I still felt a bit guilty, so next I switched to buying a live tree that I could plant outside after Christmas. But that had its limitations.

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For one thing, I could keep the tree indoors only for a few days, and that wasn't good in a house where Christmas decorations have been known to stay up until April.

The last straw came when I discovered that evergreens cause my asthma to flare up. I finally realized I'd have to change my ways - no more live trees. That forced me to rethink my prejudices against artificial trees, and I found there are some really nice ones that look good and are easy to store.

Not wanting to deprive the birds and fish of their shelters, I took to roaming the streets of Hagerstown on tree collection days, picking up a couple of discarded trees to put outside.

You'd think I'd be happy with that, wouldn't you? Oh, no! I'll still put up an artificial tree, and I'll collect used trees for the wildlife. But I want more! This Christmas I want to give the gift of trees.

I was inspired by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, which 10 years ago began a program called "Tree-Mendous Maryland." So far it has been responsible for planting 8 million trees in the state. Though it wasn't set up just for Christmas, it fits very nicely into my holiday celebrations.

For $25, I can have a tree planted somewhere on public land and a certificate sent to unsuspecting friends who might be expecting a fruitcake or a Teletubbie doll instead. More likely they'll be expecting no gift from me, since I've become such an anti-consumerism nut. So I hope they'll be pleasantly surprised.

The trees, native hardwoods, such as oak or dogwood, are planted in the county of the recipient - in parks, on school property, along streets or as stream buffers. If I buy a grove of 10 trees (for $250), I can request where I'd like to have them planted.

If you'd like to give a tree, send a check for $25, made out to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, to Tree-Mendous Maryland, Tawes State Office Building, E-1, Annapolis, Md. 21401. Include your own name, address and phone number, and the name and address of the person to whom you'd like the certificate sent.

For information about a grove, call program director Terry Galloway at 1-410-260-8510, or the forestry office in Washington County at 301-791-4733.

I figure there will be at least three recipients - the friend, wildlife and the natural environment in Maryland. That's enough to put me in the Christmas spirit, even without a live tree in my house. Happy holidays!

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at PO Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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