Saturday, April 8, 2017


I've loved trees since before I can remember. I remember rocking in my mother's lap with my blanket and loving the blue spruce outside the window. There was a tire swing in an enormous weeping willow that drew me in from the time I could walk. My dad loves to tell the story of how I once, at the tender age of four, climbed far too high in that weeping willow. When he called to me to warn me that I could kill myself up there I had called back with great annoyance, "Well at least I would die happy!" Laughter bubbles up inside my dad every time he tells that story because he knows how right I was.

We moved from that house and those trees when I was five. The trees at our new house were younger. Two apple trees, two ash, a maple, and a pine. The maple was uselessly spindly, the pine was a bit sticky, and the apple trees were too small to be an adventure. But the ash in the back corner of the yard on Harmony Drive had low, flat branches that wound up the tree just like a winding staircase. I could almost walk right up into that green tower, where I would sit still for what felt like hours with only my quiet thoughts.

When I was maybe eight or nine, walking home from school one spring day I stopped to pick up three silver maple helicopter seeds. I peeled the green shiny pods from their dead flaky crust and rubbed them in my palm with my thumb. Without too much thought I stuck them in a row in the empty flower bed beside my house and wondered if they might grow, and to my great delight, they did. I watered them and watched them with pride for a month or so, before begging my dad to help me plant them in the yard. I asked my dad, of course, because he was the soft one when it came to impractical nonsense. And he lovingly helped me transplant three silver maple weed-trees in a row beside our hedge. He helped me stake them up so they would grow straight and fence them off to keep the bunnies from nibbling. And I realize now that he mowed around those ugly trees for over a decade simply because they were "Kathy's trees."

After my maple trees were well established there came one day in a Ranger Rick magazine, a postcard that I could fill out to join The National Arbor Day Foundation, which I promptly sent back with $10.00 of my birthday money so that I could receive ten free trees. A few weeks later a large manilla envelope arrived, and I was thrilled to find ten spindly little Colorado Blue Spruce twigs inside. I think both of my parents helped me this time to cut the tops off of ten 2 liter bottles and fill them with some dirt from the back-yard to plant those tiny twigs in. I loved watching those saplings come back to life in that dirt, and grow stronger with my care. Five of those trees survived and were eventually planted around the edge of the yard on Harmony Drive, where I believe they all stand to this day. I had big plans of turning my entire yard into a forest at that time, but then I grew.

It's hard for me to realize now how the worries of life dried up my early love of green things growing. For so many years the garden was beyond my reach--in the Chicago concrete, in the dormitories, and the condos, and the rental properties where we never owned the dirt. Life was keeping everyone going, and time was for surviving and saving my strength for tomorrow.

It was Hannah who woke me: yapping on and on about the magnificent magnolia and how high she had climbed in the overgrown Arbor Vitae. It was Hannah crying when we moved away from that magnolia, and Hannah naming every tree at our new house before we'd been there a month. It was Hannah sobbing as the electric company's tree trimmers irreverently lopped off half of our sugar maple, "Belle," and Hannah sobbing again as the half-dead Elm where the woodpecker family lived came down last fall.

At first, to my own horror, I heard myself dismiss her. I heard myself spout practicalities and wisdom, and far too few tears. My aunt told me then that my Grandpa Johnson, who died the year before I was born, loved trees. She said he loved the great oaks by the old white farmhouse in Minnesota that I remember swinging under. I never knew I had so much of him in me… and in my daughter. I looked again at the ruined Elm, and this time I saw it. I cried with Hannah for the Elm tree then, and I ached for our loss.

It was Hannah who eventually wore that dead flaky crust off of my heart, and smiled at the shiny green seed inside. This spring she put me back in the dirt where my roots could drink deeply, and she is watching me come back to life. This spring Hannah and I are watching all the green things grow.

Hannah told me that our sun porch could be a greenhouse, and I believed her. We went to buy a few packets of flower seeds and decided to almost clear the shelf. We put six-dozen eggs in a bowl in the fridge so we could fill the cartons with seedlings. We passed the little display of fruit bushes and strawberry shoots and decided to grab one of each of those too. Naomi caught wind of our fever and asked if she could plant some pear seeds from the pear she was eating. I told her they wouldn't grow, but that we had plenty of dirt so she could give it a go if she wanted. And heavens, this spring our sunporch is growing!

The flowers are growing, hundreds of flower sprouts!

The fruit bushes and shoots are bushing and shooting!

And glory be, even the pear seeds came to life with their big, strong leaves pushing up and out and into the sun!

And we all feel just like we have new babies. We're gently watering, and carefully transplanting, and rooting for each seedling because they are growing right in our souls. We're researching D'Anjou Pear trees to make sure we can actually grow these babies, and then, when we find out that D'Anjou Pear trees need to be planted with a Bartlett Pear tree for pollination, we are eating Bartlett Pears as fast as we can and planting ALL the seeds because we REALLY need at least one to grow!

Then, because we didn't have enough things to grow, this week I helped Hannah join the National Arbor Day Foundation, and we are both eagerly anticipating the arrival of her ten free Redbud trees.

"Where exactly are you planning to put all of this stuff?" Matt asked one day.

So we all glared at him like we'd glare at the naysayer who forgets to say "Congratulations" to the mother who has unexpectedly found herself pregnant with a seventh child. And then we sighed and reminded Matt that trees are blessings, not burdens, and that I'm the one who'll be mowing around them anyway. And to this he had no reply. And so it is settled: our yard will be a forest one day.

And my soul will be happy. It will be full of green things, and life, like it should be. And Hannah's soul will grow strong with the trees, just like her mama's did. And if we die trying to keep all these green things alive, at least we'll die happy.