On that scale, planting a tree a year ago seems the worst of both options. Not long enough to show much discernible progress. Not recent enough to carry any afterglow of the optimistic act of planting a tree.
But planting this sugar maple 20 years ago was not an option; the proper time travel technology is not available. Besides, I lived in East Lake View then, in a walk-up condo. I wasn't planting any trees anywhere.
I moved to the suburbs, inheriting a bunch of trees, including a mammoth sugar maple that was perhaps 150 years old. And it was only last year that I finally came to grips wit with the idea that our beloved old behemoth was really going to go, that all the arborists in the world could not save it. That even even trees get old and die. So it was in the fall of 2014 that I planted a sugar maple across the walk from the doomed tree in our front yard. The new tree didn't even have leaves. I considered the sapling not so much an act of hope as a rude gesture at cruel nature. You're taking this one? Fine, Mother Nature, fuck you, I'm just going to plant another one just like it. Howdya like that?
It was, by comparison, a broomstick of a tree, a pathetic pole I could fit my hands around.
"It'll be really something," I told my wife, "...in about 100 years. We won't be around then of course. But someone will."
|Photo by Shelly Frame|
Winter came and went. Then summer—I reassured myself that it was alive, kept it watered so it stayed that way. My expectations were minimal.
As mankind so often does, I had underestimated nature.
We were on the East coast last week, traveling from Boston to Philadelphia, when one of our neighbors—we have wonderful neighbors—emailed us this photo of our new tree, which marked its first full autumn in our yard with a spectacular display of the deepest, richest orange I have ever seen on a tree.
I can't tell you how comforted I was by that blaze of fall color that popped unexpectedly from our new stick. A reminder that nature is neither cruel nor kind, it just is. Cruelty or kindness are human constructs that we layer upon nature's regular and perfect activities.
It is humans who label, who interpret. And what that little tree's virtuoso display reminded me was while individual trees, like individual people, certainly grow old and die, that trees and people, as a class, both endure, and the new generation, though smaller, at the moment, still has wonders aplenty up their sleeves, and will deal them on their own timetable. We just have to be patient and wait for them.