To plant a tree is to begin a memory. I’m a big believer in the power of growing plants along with growing the family. A measure of a kid or two or three or four can be marked right along with the rings of a tree I’ve left here and there across our pathway. And the nearness of loved ones gone on to heaven before me is palpable when I look on the thriving tree put into the ground in remembrance.
Trees equal memories. And how, you may ask, does that work?
Well, I think it helps to have scenes playing on a loop in my mind where trees and other flora (see how science-y I can be?) are growing around my life and intersecting memories. These images start way back during early days on Lashley Lane.
The cottonwood “snow” that rained down into our backyard from the neighbor’s towering giants was delightful to little me. Probably not so much to the adult dealing with it, but not my problem, so whatever. Kids are egocentric. I would see the floating storm start through the kitchen window as I got up on my knees on a naugahyde covered chair and leaned over our linoleum table (9 million bucks on eBay nowadays) and would take off out the back door to run around in it. Cottonwood snow is the bomb.
There was also a magnificent lilac bush in our side yard (which may or may not have been ours but kids don’t care about minor details of ownership) and a group of us neighborhood cronies would pick handfuls of those heart-shaped leaves and using a tricycle turned upside down would “grind” the leaves between the big wheel and the fender to make popcorn. Yes. Popcorn. Then we’d bag it and sell it to unsuspecting younger kids. Yeesh. Mafia in the making. Eventually some adult put the kibosh on that endeavor and I turned to pulling neighbor kids’ teeth with a Kleenex. Anyway . . .
Inevitably a tire swing hung from our elm tree out back and I obediently swung around in it enough to crash into the trunk repeatedly, scraping knees and bonking my face until it mysteriously went away. One year that tree succumbed to the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease and I remember thinking the world would end.
Of course there’s always the designated photo op tree and that was the crabapple. As I’ve aged it’s been a shock to realize that not everybody appreciates crabapples. Ok, so maybe they drop to the ground and rot, don’t taste exactly wonderful, and seem generally useless. But, friends, the spring blooms . . . Oh. My. Goodness. They are mightily photo worthy, a point proven by our family albums. Lookie here. I rest my case.
And then bam. Life took a turn. Down south we went. Southern trees in Arkansas became part of the new reality. Magnolias are a big thing down there. The subdivision we moved into was Something-Or-Other-Magnolia Neighborhood and each house had a baby one planted out front. Ours promptly died. Thirteen year old uprooted me thought, “It’s an omen. Get me out of here.”
The friends I eventually made knew stuff I didn’t know. Betty, the one with the cool Takara ten-speed bike, had a thriving business bagging up all the black walnuts that fell to the ground around town and talked her dad into driving her, and then her new business partner (me), into downtown Rogers to the Black Walnut Processing Plant with a car full of black garbage bags packed to the hilt with those despicable stinky nuts. We worked and worked and worked in the summer heat and earned probably $17 all summer for our trouble. Black walnuts are from the Bad Place.
Another wretched tendency related to southern trees is the unsightly and gaggy appearance of web worms all over the place come fall. They pop up overnight just in time for the spooky season, so you sort of have to hand it to them for good timing, but “disgusting” doesn’t begin to cover it. My dad incorrectly (you can count those on one hand) labeled them “bag worms” when I was first jumping sideways at the sight of a “bag” full of them in a bush right beside me, and he lovingly scraped a handful off and waved it in front of my face and told me, “A little protein never hurt anyone” (insert barfy cry face here). Entomologists who love bugs say they’re not all that bad. I say “be gone from me.”
On the positive side, you can grow a fine and dandy oak tree in Arkansas and we had a beauty in our side yard. Let it be said that The Debacle of 1976 was not the tree’s fault. It was not responsible for the enormous mass of poison oak growing up from the ground and around and around its trunk. And it was not my cousin Russell’s fault for scooching up against it as we played in the yard one summer evening as the Family at Large gathered for my cousin Darlene’s wedding that weekend. The tree was home base for whatever game we were involved in. Russell and his family had driven literally thousands of miles from Oregon to attend this wedding and when he swelled up to twice his normal size he ended up staying in the family camper for the duration of the wedding, the reception, the remaining festivities, and come to think of it, I didn’t see him again for a few years. Awful doesn’t begin to describe it. Even a crummy 14 year old has enough compassion to not make fun of that. So that’s the legacy of that oak tree. Sorry, dude.
If I regaled you with information about every tree I’ve ever come across I would soon lose you, so I’ll wrap it up in a minute. Suffice to say, I’ve put a crabapple or two in the ground here and there. And some aspens to remember Colorado. I tried a pink dogwood once (thanks, kids, on Mother’s Day) to remember the Arkansas state tree, but it slowly and sadly gave up the ghost in my clay-ridden yard and a year later I put it out of its misery. Metaphorical me resisted reading anything into that.
Multiple times I have put firs and spruces in the ground for the specific purpose of Christmas lights. When we lived in Idaho Falls, aka Snow Country, USA, driving out of town to our little property during December we’d be greeted by the most sincere little evergreen in our front yard glowing red and green. It’s probably 30 feet tall by now. I hope those people are running extension cords from the house and over the snowbanks so the Christmas Tree is fulfilling its destiny. We also put in three dwarf Alberta spruces in front of our current house just to cheer the little neighborhood at holiday time. Here they are a year or two ago.
At our same house, the City of Eugene chose to plant an oak tree, a very nice one mind you, in the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. It’s a 5-year old beauty now. In 30 years it will have buckled the sidewalk, cracked the asphalt, and given the sewer folks a run for their money. Here it is last summer and here’s an idea of what’s coming up in a few decades. And then a shot of its babyhood during an ice storm, which, by the way, it weathered better than most of its larger brothers and sisters.
Also in my backyard is a Japanese maple I grew from a stick. It was gifted to me five years ago. Since then it’s been staked up with twist ties galore in a far corner as I nurtured it along and struggled to keep its growing branches aiming in the right direction. It’s been a bit of a battle actually. Seems though that I’ve won. Recently I pulled out all its stakes, really tugging at a couple as they had embedded themselves into the now sturdy little trunk. And much to my delight, the young tree stood. Beautifully. And I will go off and leave it to someone else to nurture along. That is the way of things. We will leave behind a piece of ourselves in the roots and strong branches. There will be more trees to plant elsewhere.
Foresight is necessary when planting trees. We’ve all seen houses dwarfed by enormous trunks and branches, that when put in a hole 40 years ago, looked darling right up next to the bedroom window. Now they’re a danger. And eventually they’re gonna make some arborist rich getting it out of there. Scaling trunks, chain sawing 30″ diameter upper branches, and stump grinding doesn’t come cheap.
Placement takes vision. And positivity. You gotta believe the thing’s gonna grow! Additionally, maybe you’ve heard the adage about “If you’ve got a $50 tree, put it in a $100 hole.” Preparation is key. No sense in going to the work and expense of the purchase and the planting if you’re going to stuff the thing into a poisonous environment. (I could go all metaphorical on this one too but I shall resist. You’re welcome.) Let’s just say I’ve spent big bucks on soil additives for baby trees and muscle relaxants for my husband as he’s carted off tons of clay soil and replaced it with wheelbarrow loads of the gold-plated stuff. He loves me.
Finally, friends, do you know the best time to plant a tree?
Twenty years ago. That’s when. =)
Today happens to mark 19 years since this world lost my dad, a man who loved to plant trees and other things and enjoy the beauty of the result. On the day of his funeral service so many years ago, one of his oldest friends and pastor, Wesley Henry, sent me a note I still treasure. It contained a well-known quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Maybe you know it. According to Emerson, this is the definition of success:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!
As Christians, we also hope that our success is found in our faithfulness to Jesus and His Word. Scripture is overflowing with references to trees, our focus today. You will find them in Genesis, Revelation, and many places in between. There is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:9), the blessed man who is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:3), the trees of the forest singing in Psalm 96:12, the Cross of Jesus’ crucifixion being called a tree in Acts 5:30, and the tree of life in Revelation 22:2. There are wonderful, interesting articles by Bible scholars on the topic of trees in the Bible if you are interested in further study. Search “tree references in the Bible” or something similar to get started.
And as so often is the case, here is a song. The only reason it ties into today’s words has more to do with the goings on in my family’s life than it does with this particular blog post. But let me remind you before I go, to remember to put your roots deep down in Christ, His Word and His Way, and to plant a tree or two so that you’ve made a mark in the place you may someday leave behind. Others may not know it was planted by you, but you will. And, if you’re savvy to this song, you will understand that I could’ve selected other artists than Michael W. Smith to perform for you. I did that on purpose. He chooses regular people to sing with him along with his hired musicians on mike. They don’t have to look the role. It’s not “polishy.” And I love it. The lyrics are simple. You can apply them to your own battles.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14
P.S. Plant a tree . . . just not too close to the house. =)