An Appreciation for All Things April
Missouri always seems to redeem itself in April when warmer temperatures and longer days replace the months of gray and cold. Enthusiastic gardeners welcome the strong, pointed leaves of iris and tulips poking through the ground. Many note April as morel mushroom hunting season when hopeful seekers comb the floor of the woods to score the elusive golden treasures amid last autumn’s decaying leaves. Some marvel at the simultaneous occurrence of dogwood trees blooming, while crappie start to spawn and bite throughout our ponds and lakes. Others delight in the pastel shades of Easter celebrations, the glory of the risen Lord and the hope of a new beginning. And, of course, there are those who look forward all year long to pranking their friends on April Fools’ Day. Whatever you look most forward to this month, I hope it will include a pledge to step outside, breathe in Mother Nature and appreciate all things April.
It’s no secret that nature and trees offer a bountiful buffet of benefits. Henry David Thoreau’s words accurately summarize my thoughts about reveling in nature, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Trees do make us taller through their social, physical, economic and environmental value. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has a collection of articles on these contributions archived on its website. Socially, trees improve mood, concentration and self-discipline; reduce tension and violence; and foster connections between humans and nature. Health wise, natural areas and parks are conducive to all types of exercise, inviting people to stay active and healthy. The majestic branches and leaves screen the sun’s heat, reducing heat stress and heat-related illnesses. Trees absorb and separate carbon dioxide, storing the carbon and releasing the oxygen into the air, and thus, filter air pollutants to reduce cold and asthma symptoms. From an economic standpoint, trees save on heating and cooling costs, promote new training and employment opportunities, attract investments to invigorate local economies and raise property values. Environmentally, trees improve air quality, help to manage storm water and literally support wildlife, sheltering many birds, insects, mammals and reptiles.
The MDC’s “Tree-Mendous” series adds several more attributes to this list. Natural settings, or green spaces, make drivers less stressed, improve children’s ability to concentrate and expedite a patient’s ability to recover. People who live in or near natural settings report increased attention spans and decreased procrastination.
Trees and the trails they surround provide a great opportunity to get outside and exercise. Uneven terrains work a variety of muscle groups, help with balance and expound more energy than walking on flat surfaces. People who hike or walk in nature sleep more soundly, think more positively and cope with stress in healthier ways. It’s easy to see how nature’s scenery and surround sound nurture brain power and creative thinking!
Here at home, southwest Missouri offers a variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and couch potatoes alike. Our counties are dotted with conservation areas and lined with hiking trails to explore nature, watch birds or even catch fish, and many of these trails are wheelchair accessible. A great starting point for outdoor adventures in Joplin is the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center. This 58-acre sprawl connects people with Missouri’s vast natural resources through native plant landscaping, exhibits, educational seminars and free public programs. To find the perfect match for your next date with nature, search MDC’s website, nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places, by activity, facility or county.
April’s splendor culminates with National Arbor Day on the 30th. Although COVID-19 will alter traditional opportunities for volunteering or gathering with community this year, ArborDay.org provides resources and activities to help “rally around trees this spring,” including tips on planting, pruning, choosing the right size tree for your yard and determining which species flourish in Missouri’s climate. CelebrateArborDay.com offers “6 Ways to Celebrate Arbor Day in a Time of Social Distancing” and several other ideas to honor the significance of trees.
Another important plug I want to make for April is the deadline to nominate an individual for a Missouri Senior Service Award has been extended until April 9. Sponsored by the office of the lieutenant governor, this annual tribute acknowledges the outstanding contributions senior citizens make in our communities, so I hope you will nominate a deserving southwestern senior who is passionate about volunteering for this prestigious award. More information may be found on the lieutenant governor’s website.
I saved what may be the best news of all for last. Beginning April 9, every Missouri adult who wants to be vaccinated for COVID-19 may do so. Although we aren’t completely out of the pandemic woods yet, we are certainly teetering on the outer edges and approaching the return to normalcy with an increasing percentage of our population now protected from contracting and spreading the virus.
April showers aside, I hope each of you will take advantage of the beauty of springtime by immersing yourself in nature. I have never heard anyone complain, “I had a horrible time fishing,” or, “These flowers are too pretty,” or, “Walking in nature stresses me out.” Please remember the words of this old Malaysian proverb when you are outside appreciating nature this month, “A strong tree laughs at storms.” Once you’ve put your feet on the ground, your eyes to the trees and your mind to the infinite sky, you too may be strong enough to laugh at storms.
This column appeared in the Joplin Globe’s Better Living publication on April 2, 2021.