Friday, June 24, 2011

My Family of Trees

In my lifetime I have put hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings into the ground. And never saw them again. This treeplanting job was a metaphor for everything else in my life. Invest the energy then walk away. I never got to see what was on the other side of the work. Reaping the benefits. Watching the bloom.

Being a transient sort, I moved multiple times every year in my early adult life. I had never owned a home or a piece of land. My boxes were always half packed and one foot was always on its way out the door.

Then I bought my first home. It was on 100 acres of land. I owned it with my soon-to-be husband. With the farm came my first dog (although I had always seemed to be looking after someone else’s before that). She was 14 and unable to move into the apartment with the previous owner. The decision to keep her was a no-brainer. As you know, many other two and four legged creatures followed. But the story I’m about to tell you is about a different lot of beings.

For someone who was afraid to see farther than two weeks into the future, buying a farm, getting married, having children and caring for multiple animals was a very big deal. However, it was incredibly healing to let myself have these things in my life. They cost me. But on most days they give back even more. I am afraid that I will lose them. But the joy of having them for yet another day is worth all of the fear.

A tree seedling. It starts out hardly bigger than a small stick. You put it into soil hoping that one day it will become a large, looming, regal entity. It can shade you from sweltering heat. It can bring you fruit. In exchange for the carbon dioxide it takes up, it adds fresh oxygen into the air. They are beautiful and at times covered in flowers with the sweet smells of spring. They can grow taller than your house (and hopefully not fall onto it, right?).

The idea of planting trees around our farm came to me in the first year we bought the place. I have always taken the saying: ‘the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second best time is today’ to heart. I believe it. Just because they will take decades to grow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wish for them in your future. Coming from a commitment-phobic person, this was a revelation!

So I ordered any kind of tree I could get my hands on. I planted them by the dozens. I would transplant the seedlings that dropped from them. I would take more seedlings from the forest behind our house and move them into our yard. I would go to the ‘free tree’ days at farmers’ markets and community events and bring home new surprises to our environment every time.

The year we married we planted two trees that came as gifts, an apple tree and a linden tree. Unfortunately our new puppy decided to girdle the apple tree six years in, but the linden tree is growing stronger ever year. That was planted the weekend that we married.

The Linden Tree

Many other casualties have come to play out (and for any of you who played a part, don’t worry this is not a roast!). All the staking, mapping, fences, marking, flagging, pleading, reminding, mulching and garden stones could not have saved these trees. They were chewed down, mowed over, driven on, dragged over, blighted, dried, girdled, drowned and sometimes just forgotten in the weeds.

But the ones that remain tell the story of time that has passed and the people that came with them. I clearly remember the day that I came home from work and a group of spruce, birch and pine trees that had arrived were well overdue to be in the ground. Despite the fact that Rob’s parents and grandparents were coming for dinner, I decided to squeeze in the time to plant them. To this day I look at that fence line and remember fondly as we dug those trees into the ground while Rob’s grandfather looked on. Those trees belong to him. They are doing very well seven years later.

Fence row of Grandpa's trees

Jasmine’s first spring we bought a truck full of baby cedar trees and planted them along our road. Imagining it would be forever before they amounted to any kind of green fence, they are now lush and lovely and have already made our front lawn more beautiful and more safe for the kids running around.

Baby Cedar Trees

Cedar Hedge today

One of my favourite trees (especially for my impatient self) is the black locust tree. They are prolific and ridiculously fast-growing (also categorized as an invasive alien plant and I see now why as they are so good at out-competing native species). Seven years after planting a twig it is already providing a small web of shade over the greenhouse in the summer months. It has also produced many seedlings that have been moved to various spots on my farm and onto other people’s land.

Black locust

The year we built our addition we had the hard decision of whether to put it in the path of the meanest West wind you ever did see. AFter the house was built, Before the rubble was cleared away, I planted myself a group of pine and spruce that in twenty years will hopefully provide shelter to the West wall of our house. Those trees make me smile every time I see them growing. They grow beside a large spruce tree that protects our little log cabin from the cool winds of winter every year.


Many other trees like ash, elm, butternut, black walnut, oak and maple are scattered about in places that I can’t quite remember. The butternuts are more obvious and despite nearly getting mowed (by me) a few dozen times, they are still standing and growing lovelier every year.

Butternut tree

This year I invested in more fruit trees on the heels of some plum and cherry trees that I planted two years ago. I now have pear trees, more cherry trees, more plum, and a few more apple trees that may one day provide fruit for jams and sauces and pies along with spectacular landscape bouquets in spring. They may never come to fruition, but I deeply enjoy the process of watching them become.

Cherry tree

Pear tree

My trees have brought me lessons on everything that matters in life: patience, letting go, faith, beauty and appreciation of the here and now. Hopefully some of them will bring delicious, healthy food to our table one day.

Ever-changing, sometimes heart-breaking, always a breath of air, sometimes getting in the way, making it cool in summer, providing us warmth in winter - just like my other family members.

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