Ode to 4 Billion Tree Saplings by the River Ghion (Ethiopia)

By Alemayehu G. Mariam
And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
The name of the first [river] is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. — Book of Genesis 9-13
“I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”—Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Author’s Note:
Today, I celebrate two momentous occasions.
The first is the national turnout in Ethiopia to plant 200 million trees in a single day. I am rooting for them (pun intended) to set a world record. Where there is a will, there is a way to plant 200M trees.
The second is the celebration of “ETHIOPIA DAY” (7/28/19) in Los Angeles with music and festivities at MacArthur Park.
When H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed came to Los Angeles on July 26, 2018, the City Council of Los Angeles issued an Ethiopia Day Proclamation. An American reporterdescribed the occasion as follows:
At 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 29, thousands of Ethiopians from the western region of the U.S.—from Seattle, Wash., to Denver, Colo., and beyond—lined up to get their tickets to come together and see and hear the words of the forward-thinking, young leader who represents change for Ethiopia.
The throngs that assembled at the Galen Center, celebrated the unity, peace and a new beginning for Ethiopia; many wore the country’s colors, enthusiastically waved flags, danced with joy, and sang songs while awaiting the appearance of their leader.
Our support of PM Abiy is rock solid.
We believe in his vision and leadership.
We support his reforms in Ethiopia fully.
We stand by and with him in the vanguard in the battle of ideas.
We CONGRATULATE PM Abiy on an outstanding first year!
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4 billion trees by River Ghion
In February 2019, I shared a dream about the rise of a youth environmental movement in Ethiopia in my commentary, “Generation Abiy and the Greening of Ethiopia”.
As an environmentalist and proud tree-hugger, I have always had deep concern for environmental conservation in Ethiopia. I am proud of the fact that Ethiopia is home to many species of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. But many of them are endangered. It is my dream to see the day when an Ethiopian youth environmental movement shall rise and plant 110 million trees (one for every Ethiopian) and join hands to save our endangered species!!!
In July 2019, “the day” I dreamed about arrived to deliver not 110 million trees but 200 million in a single day and 4 billion overall!
In my February commentary, I talked about environmental degradation, tree cover loss, the need for an official arbor day, the necessity for an Ethiopian environmental movement, and my life as a tree-hugger, among other things.
On July 29, 2019, Ethiopia will have its national tree planting day, with a plan to plant 200 million trees in one day!
In February, I called on “Generation Abiy” to take the lead in planting 4 billion trees and assured them to look out for me: “Hold on, I’m coming! With 40 trees and a shovel in hand!”
I put out a challenge to Diaspora Ethiopians to top what I plan to do.
I declared I will plant 40 trees for myself, 50 more for each state in the United States, 195 trees for every country in the world.
I wish I could be there to join the millions of Ethiopians in this magnificent campaign on July 29. But the stars did not align.
So, I have assembled a few of the most beautiful odes to trees in the English language to celebrate the event and mark my symbolic and poetic presence among the million-strong Ethiopian tree planters.
Book of Genesis, 9-13
And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
The name of the first [river] is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
The Old Testament teaches when God created the world, he gave special attention to trees. Beautiful trees pleasing to His eyes. A tree of life, of vitality, that keeps growing and multiplying from new seeds and saplings. A tree of knowledge and the penalties for disobedience.
American Forestry Association — “Planting a Tree”
What does he plant who plants a tree?
A scion full of potency,/ He plants his faith, a prophecy
Of bloom, and fruitfulness to be;/ He plans a shade where robins sing,
Where orioles their nestlings swing;/ A burning bush – a miracle!
Who plants a tree, – he doeth well!
What does he plant who plants a tree?/ An emblem of the men to be;
Who lightly tough terrestrial clay,/But far above the earth, away
From sordid things and base,/Incarnate ideals for their race­
Who plants a tree, he doeth well,–/Performs with God, a miracle!
Joyce Kilmer — “Trees”
I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,/And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear/A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;/Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,/ But only God can make a tree.
Robert Burns—“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
…The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep…
Burns talks about stopping by some woods on a snowy evening and absorbs the grand scene in mystical silence. He wants to stay longer but can’t because he has a long way to travel. I have used this verse in my commentaries from time to time.
Philip Larkin – “The Trees”
The trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread, /Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again /And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new /Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh /In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say, /Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
The cycle of life, death and rebirth takes place among trees as they flower and shed. Like humans, trees live and die but they are reborn every year and start afresh. In other words, trees reinvent themselves every year as must we humans. I say the last 27 years of oppression are dead, dead, dead. Let’s begin afresh, afresh, afresh!
William Blake, “The Poison Tree”
I was angry with my friend:/I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:/I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears./Night and morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles./And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night./ Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine./And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole./When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;/My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.
Blake’s poison tree refers to anger and hatred which turn into acts of self-destruction. The bright apple of anger on the poison tree entices his enemy, who under cover of night steals into the garden and eats it. In the morning, he finds his foe lying dead under  the poison tree. Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
A. E. Housman, “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now”
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now/ Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride/ Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,/ Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,/ It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom/Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go/To see the cherry hung with snow.
In other poetic words of Algernon Charles Swinburne:
From too much love of living/ From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving/ Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;/That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river/Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Rudyard Kipling, “The Way through the Woods”
There was once a road through the woods / Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath, / And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees / That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease, / There was once a road through the woods.
Man made roads before the animals called the trees home. Man planted trees and his signature was deleted under the rooted feet of trees.
Douglas Woodsum“Ode: To Trees”
You giants, you dwarves; you leaners, you poles;/you gnarled fists,
you saplings with two leaves;/You earth holders, you soil protectors;
you bird sanctuaries, you/ shelters for the deer;/ I sing your praise.
You crow perches, you squirrel parapets;/ You stream cloggers, you ground
matters, you liners of nests; you woodpecker feeders, you air purifiers, you sap
yielders;  you shade givers . . . I sing your praise.
Trees, trees, trees… glorious trees/ Home to billions of animals.
Trees, the givers of life.
Behold, trees, trees, 4 billion trees… towering over the River Ghion…
Let’s make Ethiopia a garden of love with splendorous trees large and small in all varieties.
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ― Greek Proverb
If we are Ethiopians when we are alive and become Ethiopia (soil) when we die, we should at least be buried under a shade tree. H.E. P.M. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Commencement Speech, Addis Ababa University.

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