It is the custom in some of our high-schools for the graduating class to plant a tree in the neighborhood of the school-house and for a long period it has been the time-honored custom of universities to set out a vine in commencement week, to commemorate the class that is leaving college.
During a visit last summer to an eastern town, my attention was called to the Ampelopsis, each vine labeled with the date of the class cut in one of the stones of the foundation of the college chapel, near which the plants were set, and it was melancholy to see how forlorn and small many of them were, and how others had died completely for lack of attention. The same may be said of numbers of the pitiful little Maples and Elms that huddle around the unpicturesque and bare high-school buildings in some parts of New England, which really should by this time be amply shaded if a proper attention had been paid to the young trees when set out.
It strikes me that a radical change should be made in the time of planting these commemorative trees and vines. Instead of setting them out at the close of its career, every class should on entering the school or university erect its growing monument, and devote its best energies during the four years of school or college life to having its vine or its tree beat the record in growth and vigor. In this way, if one specimen died another could be planted, that the class might be sure of a memorial, while yearly a committee should be appointed to attend to the plant, and a small subscription be levied on each member of the class for proper fertilizers and cultivation.
If the personal attention of the boys could be given to the subject, if they would themselves dig about and enrich and prune what they had planted, and would take pride in it, the effect would be good in awakening in their minds an interest in the growth of plants and trees; and some slight knowledge might be acquired of climatic and soil conditions, while a hint might be given to them of one of the best and purest pleasures which is within the grasp of man.
In this way could be instilled into the rising generation an interest in forestry, that might in time bear fruit in greater care for this property of the nation. Among the books of reference in schools some should be supplied which treat of the proper management of growing things, so that the youths and maidens could study the subject for themselves. If, at the end of each year or four years, some slight reward, such as a simple medal or even an honorable mention, could be awarded to that plant or tree which had made any surprising growth, it might still further stimulate an interest among the young people in this most beautiful and useful work. If masters of schools and professors of colleges would use their influence to bring about this change as speedily as possible, it could not fail to do good to the youths themselves, and would replace with vigorous trees and vines the usually melancholy specimens which many classes now leave behind them as their monument.
The forester of ever so minute a wood has a fund of enjoyment on his plantation that no unlimited order to the best of landscape gardeners can ever give him. It is a fine spiritual exercise to bring the mind into sympathy with inferior organisms, and when one has fairly learned to love anything so stubborn and irresponsive as a tree, he has gained a step in mental development, even beyond that point won by a sympathetic understanding of his brother man.
However fond one may be of a flower garden, I doubt if it ever yields quite so sturdy a satisfaction as the culture of trees. It is the difference between bringing up a girl and a boy, - one all light, color, sweetness, a thing to be cherished and tenderly sheltered and nurtured; the other less outwardly winning, more obstinate in development, more independent and manly in habit, but more worth while; a thing of positive pecuniary value when well grown; and formed, when symmetry and breadth are fully attained, to be of service in sheltering the weak and weary who seek protection in what Mrs. Gamp would call "this wale".