Planting Trees for the Love of it

I looked up to my mentors and elders who plant trees. Fruit trees, nut trees, medicine trees, native trees, trees for beauty. Every tree I met became a new acquaintance and some became good friends.

For over a decade I’ve been enamored with planting and tending trees. Over that time my mentors and elders inspired me hugely. Many of them are 20, 30 even 40 years my senior.

One day I was exclaiming how I was struck by the beauty, productivity and outright amazingness of my mentors’ young food forest. They were in their mid sixties and had been planting trees and establishing their gardens for about 6 seasons.

Mark encouraged me: “If we can do this at our age, imagine what you can do at your age!”

I was in my late thirties at the time and while I was starting to feel my age I certainly could not say “I am starting to feel old” to someone in their 60’s, they’d just laugh at me and say “Wait till you get to our age!” But nonetheless that comment inspired and stuck with me, gave me more courage and hope to live my dream.

Looking back, I’ve embodied so many reasons to plant trees over the years. Growing food, having shade, sequestering carbon, more resilience, building soil, aesthetics … the list goes on.

Young apple tree stretches for the sky in early spring.

Permaculture did well to show me many of the uses that a tree can have for humans. Beyond our human needs there are so many countless “functions” that a tree might offer to support a garden, and of course ecosystems at large.

As I spend more time gardening and as my wisdom catches up to my age I find myself having fewer and fewer reasons to plant trees.

Now it comes down to the joy of planting a tree. I am overjoyed with the feeling of love that I receive for this young being.

A young homestead-nursery-grown tree may be dependent on me for care but is also already my elder, already wiser than I in so many ways. Sometimes I feel that I can never fully reciprocate what a tree can offer me.

Medlar’s first unfurling of the season.

I’ve been influenced by men in their 70’s and 80’s who happily continue to plant fruit trees in their gardens, whose flowers they may never see and whose fruits they may never taste.

I remember wondering more than once — Would I plant trees when I reach their age? Is it foolish or wise?

I was already starting to answer that question when I started hundreds of fruit and nut trees from seed. Starting trees from seed means that my trees will take longer to bear fruit than their grafted counterparts.

I told my Tai Chi teacher Gene how excited I was that I had planted several pecan trees that I grew from seed. He responded: “Great! You’ll get to eat a pecan pie in 30 years!”

So much truth in that lighthearted joke! (Seedling pecans may reach their prime after 50 years) Still I am overjoyed by the time I get to spend with young trees while I am planting, tending or just appreciating them.

I am joyed knowing that my son will get to taste so many wonderful foods from our gardens as he grows up, many of them he will pluck directly from trees’ giving branches.

Unconditional generosity.

Perhaps I am reassured knowing that the trees will grow with me as I age. Their wood hardening and firming represents a structural element that was missing in me. Friends that I can hold onto for support.

Trees have become my companions and friends. Just seeing them brings big smiles to my face and love for them pours from my heart.

Even young trees are wise elders. Through non-judgment and their deep rootedness they, in part, have taught me how to slow down enough to hear my heart. Nourishing my soul as they nourish the soil and all life around them.

Though I may choose to grow an apple variety for its reputed flavor, I am no longer planting trees just (or mostly) for their fruit.

Now I am planting trees for the love of it. For my hands in the soil with the earthworms. For the nurturing that comes out of me when I lower a root ball into the ground. For the prayers that flow from me as water flows from the hose to quench a tree’s roots.

For the gratitude that I feel for this tree and its relatives for living in our garden and around our home. For the aliveness I feel when I breath my thanks to the tree.

I am planting trees for the beauty of it. I can’t help but see beauty in their natural forms. Their earth tones. Their vibrancy and aliveness. Their fractal nature. Their leaves shimmering in the wind leaving me breathless. Their blossoms inviting insects and passersby alike to the party.

Mulberry greeting a new season with outstretched leaves, as if to wave hello.

My companions’ beauty reflects back to me and reminds me that I am a human animal. My own beauty is just as natural, just as graceful, just as timeless, just as formless behind my form. I am just another beautiful but minuscule being on this miracle of miracles we call home — planet Earth.

Yes! — I answered that question I once quietly asked of myself. Yes! — I can now envision myself planting trees past my prime, in my 80’s if I am lucky enough, in those not so far off days when I will be spending more time contemplating death and decay and honoring all of the life that has come before me.

Myriad dead bodies of every species long gone, but whose minerals and nutrients are cycled over and over time immemorial and that now feed these trees, myself and all that we call life — all that is alive in this grand moment.

But for now I plant and dream with the trees.

Peach blossoms for miles.

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