Before our first trip to Ireland in 2017 I hadn’t been on an airplane in more than 15 years. I had literally flown one time since 911 (then barely pregnant with Sage, on a work trip for the conservation organization I worked for).
And not unlike when I was doing a lot of travel for conservation education, I was strangely unaware of the environmental impact of our trip just those few years ago.
When we flew again as a family in 2020 (a 6 week trip to Iceland and back to Ireland once more), things felt different. After I purchased our tickets, my consciousness shifted, and I began contemplating the carbon footprint of both of these adventures (with ever-increasing discomfort).
With climate change no longer a future prediction and very much a here-and-now reality, I had discomfort around my decision to load my family on a plane for the sake of education, life experience, and pleasure.
Honestly, as a lifelong environmental advocate and activist, it felt more than a little selfish.
So while we were in Ireland, I proposed a partial solution to my family: instead of making birthday gifts for me this spring, would they all pitch in and plant enough trees to offset our carbon footprint for our family’s air travel?
Everyone was enthusiastically on board.
We settled on 100 trees, then quickly doubled it to cover our first trip as well. 200 trees. That should do it.
I ordered the bulk of them from our annual county tree sale before I got a bug to plant willows as well (not offered through the county). Willows are not only excellent at water-uptake (something we desperately need here in this valley), but they’re stars at carbon sequestering, trapping more than most other species and holding it there, underground, even after they die. And I’m getting excited to make baskets again, and don’t want to import reed from overseas to do it, so willow baskets it is.
Lupine and I spent an afternoon in late winter taking cuttings at a generous friend’s willow farm. These we set in buckets of water until root nodes appeared, then Pete planted each in tree flats to allow further growth before planting.
With the willows, our 200 became 300.
300. That felt like a solid number of trees to not only offset our second trip but our first as well, along with a few past family road trips in our vintage RV.
Black walnut and white pine, willow and sugar maple, black birch, white spruce and elderberry, rose and more. A windbreak, a food forest, a medicine garden, a basketry grove, a bit of flood insurance, and some earth-cooling shade.
Plus a carbon-offset for our travels.
Yes, please. Bring it.
Late last week, the tree order arrived, and this weekend we got to work.
On Saturday, we laid out a circuitous path from our house to the creek, then lined it with an assortment of shade-giving, moisture-loving trees.
The next day (snow flurries be damned!) we put in a windbreak up the valley from our property, something we’ve dreamed of since moving here more than 7 years ago.
After two days of steady planting, we still have more trees left than we’ve put in the ground.
But I’m not discouraged.
Planting 300 trees is no joke. I had planned a tree planting birthday party, but: social distancing. So it’s just us. And while our moods shifted as dramatically as the weather, we came out of the weekend satisfied by our accomplishments.
In the past 48 hours we were rained on, snowed on, and pelted with sleet, yet still managed a sunburned. There was dirt in my hair, my mouth, and my ears, and I was so tired yesterday that I accidentally blew my nose in my eyeglasses cloth after forgetting why I pulled it from my pocket.
I’d say I’m a hot mess, but after yesterday’s blustery planting, “cold mess” seems more appropriate.
What a weekend. What a project! Only a couple hundred more to go.
A quick postscript: we all make changes in our lives with positive and negative environmental consequences. Do I propose everyone do this? Of course not. Just like homeschooling my kids or planting a garden, it is a deeply personal choice. That said, I do encourage each of us to look deeply at the impact of our choices. And then if you have the privilege to do so, choose actions that yield a lighter impact.
From choosing second-hand clothing to biking to work, buying organic food to going meat-free one meal each week, buying a more sustainable vehicle to saying no to air travel: most of us can find small and big ways to begin making an impact.
What about you? Is there a small change you are eager to make to tread more softly on the earth?
Have you participated in a purchased or personal carbon-offset? Let’s inspire each other. What was your method to lighten your footprint on the planet?