Spring Cleaning for the Future of Indianapolis

I have been thinking a lot recently about the future world I want for my family, for the City, and the world beyond.  I see a future where the air and water are clean, where both people and nature are thriving. That’s what motivates me – and all of our amazing staff and volunteers – to do the important work of planting trees, creating new greenspaces, and removing litter from our streets and waterways.

Some of this work – like picking up litter – is done today, and will likely need to be done again before too long. Other aspects of our work, like planting trees, will leave a positive legacy for decades to come.

This past week, I had the opportunity to speak to over a hundred 20-30-year-old members of IndyHub at their Shape Our City Summit. I was asked how young adults can play a role in making the city more sustainable. I mentioned the adage that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time to plant a tree is today. Planting trees with KIB is such an amazing experience – it’s a good workout, it’s educational, and it helps create the future we want.

I also was honored to be asked to speak at another legacy tree event at IUPUI. The Japanese Department was able to secure a gingko tree that is a descendent of a tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima 75 years ago. The gingko is a hardy, drought-resistant, pest-resistant, and incredibly resilient tree. It was moving to hear the students at IUPUI call for peace, and their joy at participating in this ceremonial tree planting to spread that message now and in the future. Did you know that your blood pressure and heart rate are lower when you walk beneath a tree canopy rather than out in the open? Trees calm us. They help bring peace!

As I look out my window, I see an old red maple tree with its thousands of samaras (helicopters) already visible, and the distinctive leaves just emerging. This magnificent tree is 9 feet in circumference, which means that it is about 150 years old, and is definitely in advanced age. I also know from KIB’s Tree Canopy Planner tool that there is a blackgum and a ginkgo tree that past volunteers and KIB staff planted on my block in 2017. These trees passed their third birthday during the pandemic, and are now well-established and ready to thrive for decades to come, long beyond when my mighty maple sends its last helicopter to the wind.

New Haven, Connecticut was once called “Elm City” because of the many elms that lined its streets and parks. In the 1930s, the tree was almost entirely wiped out by disease. “Dutch Elm Disease” is a fungal infection spread by bark beetles. I recently learned that it didn’t originate in the Netherlands, but it is so named because scientists there were the first to identify the problem. I’m a transplant from Connecticut, and my mother was born and raised in New Haven. It gave me great pleasure to plant disease-resistant elm trees with my daughter on the West side of Indy the other day. It felt spiritual, and I was keenly aware of the multi-generational aspect of the work – both for the tree and for us. The next generation will enjoy the peaceful shade those elms provide.

A mother plants a tree with her two daughters for Earth Day in Haughville.

Though it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the state of the world, and the state of the environment, we all can – and should – make a difference by doing one small thing every day. Picking up loose litter before it can go down the storm drain helps make our water cleaner right now. Planting trees creates more benefits as time goes on. You can do both with KIB, and I invite you to join us.

As always, if this work inspires you and gratifies you, please let us know! If you want KIB to keep organizing and leading this work now and in the future, please consider making a contribution at www.kibi.org/donate. If it’s a meaningful amount to you, it’s meaningful to us!