Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall color

Fall, 2014
     "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago," the Chinese proverb tells us. "The second best time is now." 
     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
     To be honest, I sort of forgot about it. The thing wasn't much to look at, more of a reminder of what was lost than anything else. 
     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. 


  1. Tree fertilizer stakes can help too.

  2. Reminds me of my grandson Charlie, who was planted a bit more than a year ago, but who was so eager to step forth on the stage that he arrived a good two months early, and who has for the last eight months or so delighted and charmed all and sundry with his winning smiles and quirky grimaces. My daughter and her husband are doing all the right things I'm sure to ensure that he will grow straight and strong, but even if they weren't, his success is guaranteed by the personality he's had from day one.


  3. The Heart of the Tree
    Henry Cuyler Bunner

    What does he plant who plants a tree?
    He plants a friend of sun and sky;
    He plants the flag of breezes free;
    The shaft of beauty, towering high;
    He plants a home to heaven anigh;
    For song and mother-croon of bird
    In hushed and happy twilight heard—
    The treble of heaven’s harmony—
    These things he plants who plants a tree.

    What does he plant who plants a tree?
    He plants cool shade and tender rain,
    And seed and bud of days to be,
    And years that fade and flush again;
    He plants the glory of the plain;
    He plants the forest’s heritage;
    The harvest of a coming age;
    The joy that unborn eyes shall see—
    These things he plants who plants a tree.

    What does he plant who plants a tree?
    He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,
    In love of home and loyalty
    And far-cast thought of civic good—
    His blessings on the neighborhood,
    Who in the hollow of His hand
    Holds all the growth of all our land—
    A nation’s growth from sea to sea
    Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

  4. That IS a beautiful orange. Too much yellow (not that there's anything wrong with it!) when compared with the amount of orange in the city, for my taste. To me, this photo and your swell sapling point out the importance of appreciating the little things. I'm always looking for the stunning broad vista in autumn, as we drive different places. It took me a while to realize that what one can't necessarily see from the highway can be enjoyed when one gets off the road and into a town or park and notices the more micro-versions of nature, rather than a macro view. There's not a flood of color in the photo of your yard, but that which is provided by the little maple is plenty, if one has the right attitude, as you obviously do...

    And nice poem, mellowjohn! No wonder you're so mellow.

  5. Proverbially speaking, a Greek one says "Society grows great when old men plant trees they know they shall never sit under."

    No need to fuck Mother Nature, as she will offer up her own compensations. I lamented the loss of an ancient leafy Maple, but now quite like the verdant lawn that thrives out of her too-dense shadow.

    Tom Evans.

    1. Lovely proverb that unfortunately makes me think of the opposite situation, the one we find ourselves sinking into, in which old men and old women do not plant trees they shall never sit under, refuse to support schools they've no children attending, back off support of unions they're no longer members of, give up on the sick, the disabled and the poor unless a member of their family is handicapped. And in self-fulfilling prophecy, claim that America is no longer great.


  6. We're selling our home after living there for 40 years. The one thing I'll miss is seeing the 3 trees that our kids planted from their arbor day activities in school. The trees have survived varmints and some really harsh winters and I marvel at how tall and sturdy they've become. We planted a 4th tree, a maple, in honor of our grandson who died during childbirth 3 years ago. His parents requested that trees be planted in his memory. There are now many young saplings growing around the world in his name. We've planted another one for him, a Japanese maple, at our new home.

  7. Beautiful tree & sentiment. We lost my childhood beloved elm to the disease that wiped out the archway down our street. My father planted a Littleleaf Linden in honor of his birthplace national tree. That scrawny stick eventually produced fragrant white flowers each spring, a golden crown each autumn, & rustling leaves to bring the sound of nature into the house. Never as majestic as the line of elms or your to-be-massive maple, but compensating with several senses instead.

  8. For another layer of beautiful fall color, I suggest that you train poison ivy up the trunk of your tree. Another tree for marvelous fall color is the Aralia spinosa, commonly known as The Devil's Walking Stick. The combination of the white berries on the Ivy and the purple-black berries on the Aralia is simply magic. And deer won't bother them- at least not twice.


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