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Arlington National Cemetery tree planting: Scott Steen, Katherine Hammack and Steve Van Hoven
(From left) American Forest CEO Scott Steen; Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment; and Steve Van Hoven, Arlington National Cemetery urban forester, plant a descendant of Arlington Oak near the Kennedy gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Leroy Council/U.S. Army

Some of you may have seen that I had the opportunity to take part in a ceremony on Friday (Arbor Day) near the Kennedy gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. The purpose was to dedicate three oak seedlings that were planted to replace the majestic Arlington Post Oak that had stood on the site for 220 years and was destroyed last August by Hurricane Irene. This one tree came to be a symbol of Arlington National Cemetery and was a big reason that the site was chosen for the resting place of a beloved president whose life was tragically shortened. In 2007, American Forests collected acorns from Arlington Oak and used them to grow new saplings. These saplings were used in the Arbor Day planting.

During the next five decades or so, the trees we planted on Friday may grow to more than 80 feet high and up to two feet wide. If we’re lucky, they should start producing acorns in about a quarter century.

President Kennedy once told the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshal replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!” When we plant trees, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come.

At American Forests, we plant trees on a fairly massive scale — about four million last year. We talk a lot about “landscape scale projects” and “ecosystem restoration.” On Friday, I was reminded again of the power one single tree can have on people’s imaginations and of the way that planting a tree can move our thoughts beyond ourselves and toward leaving a legacy for future generations.