From the Archives: Save a Tree for Me by Dave Orleans

We here at the blog are excited to announce a new series! In tandem with new PIO! Editor Brigid Finucane, we will begin sharing songs from the extensive archives once or twice a month. This song and article excerpt is from Member Dave Orleans.


(Article originally published in Pass It On! #29, Spring 1998)

Sometimes it’s awfully hard to find Mother Nature after the make-over we humans have given her over the years. In any given urban center, the search for a single healthy tree, let alone any substantial evidence of our natural heritage, can be a long, frustrating experience. When you walk down a suburban street in NJ and can’t tell when you are leaving one town and entering another, except for the sign that tells you so, it can prove difficult for young people to realize that they are part of a natural place of any uniqueness or importance.

I worked as a park naturalist for a county parks system in the most urbanized county in southern New Jersey for over 30 years. During that time I used all the tried-and-true interpretive methods in my work. Most importantly, when I went to schools and we took our nature walks through the neighborhoods surrounding them, I felt it was important to challenge kids, along with their teachers and parents, to find exciting connections to the natural world right in their own backyards, which I have always felt could be even more effective than taking a field trip to a park or forest setting, where everything is expected to be more “natural”.

In 1981 I began to hear some exciting new music at folk festivals, and it touched a responsive chord in me. I heard Pete Seeger, Bill Staines and David Mallett at the Philadelphia Folk Fest (all in the same year, I think), and realized that there was a large body of environmental music waiting to be discovered and sung. Songs like “The Garden Song”, “A Place In The Choir”, “Garbage”, and “Sailin’ Up, Sailin’ Down” became the roots for my growing interest in merging songs with the traditional nature programs I’d been conducting for 10 years already.

Being a closet folk musician and songwriter, I began to observe, collect, create and perform music which touched upon, or taught about environmental concepts and issues, hoping someday to compile a database of environmental songs and teaching ideas that would be of value to educators in bringing the arts, especially music and song, into the more complete exploration of environmental concerns.

It was only after completing a Master’s Thesis on using music to complement traditional methods of teaching in environmental education, that collecting songs and activity ideas became my hobby and compulsion. Of almost 2700 songs collected and categorized so far (and many more still to be discovered), I have found that songs that focus on some aspect of the environment have been written for every musical genre, age-level appropriateness, subject matter, and region of the world.

However, the songs that I gravitate toward tend to be simple without being simplistic, and direct without being preachy, about things that children can connect to easily in their own experiences. And, of course, the songs that are the most fun to play with and add to with an audience also will continue to be fresh and enjoyable for them (and me).

I often encourage children to think about a friendly tree that they know, one that makes them feel good because it has beautiful flowers in the spring, colorful fall leaves, has its branches in just the right places for climbing, and many other reasons.I have always loved to sing outdoors, so that the natural sights and sounds of the environment can creep into the experience, and can be the springboard for other songs and conversation about how our world works. And while we’re at it we might try to make some music with a piece of grass, or an acorn top, or listen to the wind through the leaves.

To read the full article, click here.

Save Some Trees by Dave Orleans:

Words and Music

1 comment

  1. This is wonderful! CMN has so much terrific archival material. Thanks to all who thought of sharing it one more time.

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