Lot Lau is putting his lifelong love of trees to good use. At age 81, he is a member of a Citizen Forester group whose efforts are aimed at helping to save the planet — one tree at a time.

“When I was young, I thought of trees only for climbing to get the fruit,” he recounts. “I preferred the Samoan palm variety. They bear coconuts much lower to the ground and are tall, stately, durable and strong. They sway gently in the breeze like a hula dancer. They give of themselves to benefit others.”

The Citizen Forester (CF) program works through the Smart Trees Pacific (www.smarttreespacific.org) nonprofit, offering community members of all ages information about the benefits of trees in our urban forests. CFs learn how to identify common species and how to collect measurements and assessments for a software application that reveals the ecological services of our trees. After completing training, CF teams inventory the trees in our public parks and streets.

There are more than 300 trained volunteers on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. One group takes care of 74 trees along a quarter-mile stretch of a walking path at Diamond Head State Park. CFs like Lot care for the tree wells in Kaimuki.

“As a Citizen Forester, I am able to do more to reduce my carbon footprint,” says Lot. “I’m contributing to the effort to increase the canopy of trees in Kaimuki, to help make Kaimuki look greener, feel cooler, and capture carbon and hold water. I am reinforced by the dedicated program participants who serve as my role models.”

Lot says he has also been influenced by Lao Tzu, who wrote the main book of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Taoism holds that humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao — the universe. The Taoist ideal is one who changes themselves, becoming a good example to others. So changing oneself makes the world better.

“I have also learned there are various forms of the expression ‘do unto others’,” says Lot. “I believe that there is a connectedness between all forms of life. So, it is about living in harmony with nature. Current climate change effects demonstrate how harm to one is harm to another. So at the most basic level of self-interest and survival, trees are obviously very important to us humans.”

“But humans will never know much about our universe — that’s why religion is called a “faith.” For me, attending church reminds me how to how to treat others,” says Lot, “serving as a guide along right paths in a Christian tradition.”

Lot has chosen his path wisely — following God, Lao Tzu and his fellow CFs. And like his Samoan coconut trees, he strives to remain durable and strong — giving of himself to benefit others — bending instead of snapping under duress.

“But we are no longer in harmony with nature,”  says Lot. “We have forgotten our connectedness. We are way behind the curve in response to climate change that could be mitigated by more and healthier trees, so I do what I can to help.”

Smart Trees Pacific