My Arbor Day Heart
Since we just observed Arbor Day on April 30, I thought it a fitting time to fulfill my responsibility as Poet Laura to “plant trees, protect trees, or help to plant a trillion trees by scrolling on [my] phone (to counteract the high paper usage of poets everywhere), and draw attention to or write tree poems…”. We are, after all, in the planting season and perhaps you, dear readers, will need only this gentle reminder to step outside and tend a growing thing for the greater good.
I seem to remember Arbor Day had a greater presence in the world when I was a young girl. There were campaigns in our schools to raise awareness of the value of trees. I recall volunteers traipsing door-to-door for the Arbor Day Foundation, peddling saplings to the public. Most folks down our hollow pitched in for the cause, even though we were already a well-treed community. Our neighbors were proud to be part of a movement to make the earth more hospitable. And a tree was a purchase that gave back, in the form of fruit or shade or beauty. I remember my mother planting the skinny stalks of saplings and ribboning them to accompanying stakes to keep their spindly spines straight. Newly earthbound, they would then be cordoned with chicken wire to protect their tender leaves from hungry critters. These tiny tree islands dotted the meadow behind our country home, often lost in high-growing grasses and cornflower. Until one day when their crusty trunks seemed to thicken overnight and our meadow became a forest.
Yes, planting a tree is a good and simple thing I can do to make the earth a better place. That said, I must confess, I did not plant a tree on Arbor Day this year. Rather, I have been transplanting trees all spring. With the exception of my flowering Crabtree out front and the two trees I planted when each of my sons were born, it is very rare for me to purchase a tree for planting. I am more in the habit of nursing foundling trees into mature plants when I discover them sprouting in problematic places. When the tree is large enough to tolerate a switcheroo, I move the adolescent to a roomier home. I have four Maple trees in my backyard—now taller than our house—that all started out as volunteers. Every spring the air around the yard is filled with twirling, whirling samaras as the trees flower and give up their seeds to the wind. This explains why I keep finding sprouts to transplant, of course.
The other person who lives in my house—my husband—is ever the pragmatist (every poet needs one in her life, otherwise she might float off into oblivion, never to be seen again) and does not share in my tree-saving tendencies. “That tree is too close to the house,” he tells me. “The roots are going to mess up the foundation.” Or, my favorite, “In 70-hundred years or so, when that tree is bigger than the sky and it falls on the roof, we’re going to be in trouble.” (Okay, maybe I exaggerate a tad). And so, to please this man to whom much of my happiness is anchored, I have fervently taken up container gardening. Every window sill, sunny nook or cranny, deck railing, even the dining room table—all fair game to host a tree baby. Somehow this tendency harbors its own style of criticism. But I simply cannot bear to permanently uproot a tree. There is immense joy in liberating such a creature into a full life rooted in sunshine.
I have wept over trees and sung over trees and whispered all my secrets into the shade of their embrace. If you call me a tree-hugger I will not take offense. I highly recommend the company of trees.
Right now, as I write, a single samara whirls by the window, caught in the breeze. I wonder where it will land.
trees talk, share,
sigh, sing, laugh
how to make
this tiny sapling
part of the conversation?
maple key planted
her between stalks
of my crepe myrtle
now she stretches,
struggles toward light,
languishing in the crowd
the shiver of her leaves
beseech, the tangle
of her roots complain, until
I learn the language of trees
Photo by Mark Veraart, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess, Tweetspeak Poetry’s 2021 Poet Laura.
A Novella From Laura Boggess
Lyrical and whimsical writer Laura Boggess brings us an inspiring story of one woman’s quest to put her life back together. Poetry plays a part. But not before a book gets delivered to the wrong house on a windy, impossible day.
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L.L. Barkat says
I love how you tend all the little trees! (And I am tickled to know you are starting to bring life into the house everywhere. I seem to being doing that in the last year, too. I never used to keep plants inside! 🙂 )
Also, you can breathe a bit easier knowing that there is a method to the mother trees’ shading behavior (and you needn’t move any more tiny trees into the sun) … I recently learned from The Hidden Life of Trees that baby trees need to grow more slowly in the beginning in order to build up a stronger structure. This means less sugar. Which means less light.
Also, apparently nursery-grown saplings lose their ability to communicate with other trees, because their roots are trimmed back too severely. So the best way to plant a tree is to just let one grow where it has tried to grow. Trees that can’t communicate with one another are more at risk during drought and when pests arrive.
I LOVE how trees care for one another. And that they talk!!! 🙂
This is good information to know! My problem, however, is that the samaras are so abundant in our back yard that the baby trees often sprout up in the midst of my other plantings (such as my crepe myrtle in the poem) and for both to get nourished, the saplings must be moved. I hope by moving them I don’t quiet their conversation with their tree family!
L.L. Barkat says
I think the quieting happens mostly with nursery saplings, because the roots are trimmed back so much. Not sure.
Yes! My whole lawn is covered with so many volunteers this year! They really would just make a whole forest if I let them. It’s amazing how prolific nature is. I often consider that her success relates directly to the generous measure with which she casts her seeds upon the wind. (This, of course, does not explain Nature’s poor penguin, who lays one egg per season. And just when I wanted to land on a formula I could copy for my own successes! 😉 )
Bethany R. says
What a beautiful poem, Laura. Thank you for writing and sharing this post with us.
“I have wept over trees and sung over trees and whispered all my secrets into the shade of their embrace.” <3 Truly lovely.
Thank you for reading, Bethany, and for your kind words. Nature is the endless muse, is she not?
Bethany R. says