We planted saplings at school yesterday: oaks, maples, redbuds. Kids vied for the chance to carry the potted trees, shovels, buckets of water and compost down the steep hill, across the soccer field, to a location where we hoped the trees would thrive. Digging proceeded enthusiastically, unearthing rocks and roots and sometimes mysterious objects as the holes deepened. It took a long time – hours spent with several different classes – to get past all the obstacles, to prepare the soil, but no one complained. The day was warm, the fall foliage vibrant. If you weren’t digging, you were finding rocks to encircle the base of the tree, or clearing away vines.
When at last the young trees were taken out of their pots and fitted into their new spaces, they received names. Some reflected the immediate planting conditions, like “Root monster” (with an impressive root ball) and “Heart Tree” (for the shaped rock that was found in the hole). “Darrell” and “Beyoncé” were named for a grandfather and a favorite performer. Naming a tree does more than elevate its status; it confirms a lasting relationship with the namer.
Then came the questions born of new stewardship:”When can we come back to check on him?” “Can I bring her water during recess?” “How can we keep deer from eating him?” Walking back, talking about how long it takes for trees to grow, we realized that if these tree-planters someday had children who came to school at Jemicy, the trees might by that point have offspring of their own. “They can be cousins!” someone said.
“Where did you get the trees?” a JE student asked. “Can I plant some at my house?”
The trees came, I told them, from a nursery in the Middle River area – a round trip journey of a couple of hours. The county had sent out notices for its Fall Tree Giveaway: ten free tree saplings to any county resident who showed up to get them. Oaks, maples, and several understory species were available, a golden opportunity to help replenish the local natives.
I arrived just after the nursery opened at 8 AM, joining a line of vehicles waiting to enter. On this exquisite fall morning, I turned off the engine and got out to enjoy the quiet and sunshine – but not for long. The fellow in the car in front of me, windows down, was shouting at his phone: “They said FREE, but apparently they’re NOT REALLY FREE, because we have to WAIT FOREVER in this LINE to get them!” After haranguing the volunteer who was directing traffic, he gunned his engine into a U-turn and roared away. Five minutes later, the line had moved, and I was loading a small forest into the car. Heart Tree and Root Monster. Beyoncé and Darrell.
We plant trees – the longest-living beings that we know -as memorials, as windbreaks, as things of beauty, as habitat for others, as erosion control, as a food source. Watching kids plant trees is like planting time itself, time that expands as they grow, year upon year and ring upon ring of sturdy sapwood. I concluded that maybe we were lucky when that man left the line – because we got to plant his trees.
The kids looked relieved. “Right! And who knows what he would have named them?!”