It’s Arbor Day, April 24, the 125th day of the year. Yesterday, the temperature of Lake Michigan was 47 degrees at the Chicago crib and 49 degrees at the Chicago shore.

This day in history (from

1800, U.S. Library of Congress establishes with $5,000 allocation

1897, First reporter, William Price (Washington Star), assigned to White House

1962, Massachusetts Institute of Technology sends TV signal by satellite for 1st time: California to Massachusetts

This is the 138th Arbor Day. Information posted on the website of the Morton Arboretum says J. Sterling Morton conceived of a day set aside to plant and call attention to trees, having moved in 1854 from wooded Michigan to the treeless Nebraska territory. April 10, 1872, was the first Arbor Day; thirteen years later, in 1885, Nebraska made Mr. Morton’s birthday, April 22, Arbor Day. Mr. Morton’s son, Joy, established the arboretum in Lisle in 1922. J. Sterling said of this holiday, “Arbor Day is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.” Thanks to the efforts of tree steward Allison Sloan, Evanstonians will “chalk a tree” today (or soon), chalking the names of their parkway trees onto the sidewalk so passersby can learn to recognize them by their bark, since it’s too early for leaves.

Last week, Kirby Callam and his group at EvanSTEM sent the RoundTable a video of some of the projects kids are making at home. The marble run, perhaps a variation on a Rube Goldberg mechanism, got me thinking about Evanston. I had what I thought was a great analogy – the community of Evanston is a Rube Goldberg machine.

Looking up definitions of Rube Goldberg contraptions, I noticed his name is invoked for inventions that do simple things in an overly complex way or ones that creatively solve problems. 

One can look back a century or more to the founding of our hospitals and schools, to rallies against gun violence, xenophobia, racism and the climate crisis or to a month ago, when this community began to respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that are both practical and creative.

The community has rallied around those harmed by this crisis, providing food boxes, face masks, virtual tip jars and gift cards to businesses that are closed, temporarily we hope – scarab beetles rolling a challenge into the sun. Evanston Township High School students wrote more than 2,000 notes to recipients of the weekly food boxes that go to families who could use a boost right now. Firefighters and police officers hold rallies thanking the other frontliners – the hospital workers.

Signs around town reflect a determined we’re-going-to-make-the-best-of-this spirit and heartfelt gratitude to the ones whose work make us believe that is so. 

Maybe we are a Rube Goldberg community – or maybe there is no straightforward way of accomplishing the simple task of living.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...