Maine Song and Story Sampler Map - Special Updates!
May 22, 2013
Song: “The Silviculture Song”
Singers: Walter Seaha and Jim Davenporte
Town: Orono, ME
Date: April 19, 1964
NA 0154 T 0227
Collector: Jerome Gamache
Singers and Collector: Walter Seaha, Jim Davenporte, and Jerome Gamache were all students at the University of Maine at the time of this interview. Seaha (from Connecticut) and Davenporte (from New Jersey) majored in Forestry. They were seniors at the time, but learned the material recorded by Gamache when they were first year students. The material was passed from older students to younger students at the time. As for Jerome Gamache, not much else is known: he lived in Gannet Hall (a residence hall at UMaine) at the time and this was his first experience collecting folklore.
Arbor Day is a holiday that celebrates trees, and individuals and groups typically commemorate this holiday by planting trees. First celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872 (more on the origins of Arbor Day in a moment), every state in the United States and several countries around the world now observe the holiday, or something similar. In the US, every state had passed public laws to observe Arbor Day, or in some cases Arbor and Bird Day, by the 1920s. In Maine, we celebrate Arbor Week the third full week of May (for more information on Maine’s observance, www.arborday.org/states/state.cfm?State=ME). National Arbor Day occurs on the last Friday in April, and every state sets its own date(s), usually in the spring depending on suitable planting season.
Arbor Day originated in Nebraska, as mentioned previously, which may not seem like the most obvious place for a tree holiday to start. However, trees are quite precious in places that tend to be flat and windy, especially when said wind is blowing away irreplaceable topsoil (see, The Dust Bowl). This is where a man named J. Sterling Morton (22 April 1832 – 27 April 1902) enters the story. Morton – born in New York, raised in Detroit, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1854 – moved with his wife Caroline Joy French to Nebraska, which was at that time not yet an organized territory (it would become a territory of the US later that year). Both of the Mortons were avid naturalists, and Sterling used his position as editor of a local newspaper, the Nebraska City News, as a forum for advocating his agricultural information and enthusiasm to the other new settlers in Nebraska, who were in turn an eager audience. He became well-known in the territory and nationally, serving briefly in the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives from 1855–1856, appointed Secretary of Nebraska Territory by President James Buchanan on July 12, 1858, serving as Acting Governor of Nebraska from December 5, 1858 to May 2, 1859, and later serving as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. On January 4, 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday in Nebraska, and the State Board of Agriculture set a date for April of that year. The official date was later changed to April 22 to mark Morton’s birthday. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day! Trivia question: Even with this list of accomplishments, J. Sterling Morton is arguably only the second best known member of his family; which of his family members became a household name?
The song heard here is a very short number that forestry students used to learn at the University of Maine. It is not exactly about Arbor Day, but silviculture seems relevant to the original point of this holiday. The name comes from the Latin silvi- (forest) + culture (as in growing). Silviculture is the practice of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society on a sustainable basis. Maybe a windbreak isn’t a forest or woodland, but it does fall under the needs of landowners and society, so we will call it good enough!
Silviculture we will master,
We will put out fires faster,
We will learn to use the compass and the calipers;
We’ll learn the names of fish and bugs (fish and bugs),
Birds and butterflies and slugs (flies and slugs),
And the names of trees
Will never bother me,
For I have studied forestry!
For more about Arbor Day and work done by Morton, www.arborday.org/arborday/history.cfm