The Use-Value of an Invaluable Tree

Over the course of this semester, I have spent a lot of time with the sugar maple that lives outside of the Althouse building. Although the weather has changed and seasons have flown by, one common thread that holds together all of the times I have visited my tree is the emotion behind it; no matter what else was going on in other places on campus, no matter what assignments I had hanging over me, I always felt a sense of calm whenever my sugar maple and I were together.

In a society where everyone is always rushing to get from one place to the other, slowing down along the way to spend a few minutes with my tree every now and then was therapeutic.

Use-value is defined as “anything that satisfies a human want,” (Gould 1943) and my sugar maple has provided me with a very precious gift: it allows me to slow life down, if only for a few moments; it reminds me to take a few moments to myself every now and then to just breathe. This gift satisfies my want, my need even, to feel in control of the crazy journey that life takes us on and to not become overwhelmed.

On a larger scale, my sugar maple helps to satisfy the Dickinson community’s desire for a beautiful campus and clean air. In the spring and summer, my sugar maple stands tall and resolute with a lush crown of green leaves that stand out against the bright blue sky; in the fall, the tree’s green gems are painted with the warm, familiar tones of autumn, until they eventually rain down and gracefully drift towards the ground. No matter the season, my sugar maple works hard to purify the air that we breathe. My sugar maple also provides shade for the students and faculty traversing the academic quad, and a resting place for the squirrels and birds that nest among its branches.

From a more global perspective, sugar maples as whole possess a more tangible use-value. The economic use-value of sugar maples satisfies the human desire of economic growth and progress. The sap from sugar maples is prized for its distinct sweetness. This sap is boiled down and processed into maple syrup, which can then be transported and sold all over. Additionally, maple wood is well-known in the furniture industry for its sturdiness. A chair, for example, made of maple wood may be sold to a family who the chair will continue to serve for years—decades even. One tree may satisfy both of these applications, spending its life bearing sap for syrup, until the day that it is eventually crafted into a long-lived and unique piece of woodwork.

There is no single way in which I could succinctly express my gratitude for all that my sugar maple provides. My only hope is that the love, care, and adoration that it receives on campus can begin to repay all of the favors that this sugar maple selflessly does for us.

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