We chose the spot
We dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground
To have and hold
As autumn falls
To winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the spring
The roots grow deep
And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
– Andrew Peterson, Planting Trees
Trees are kind of a big deal in my mother’s family. More specifically, planting trees is a big deal. On my grandmother’s side, we have my great-great-grandfather, Albion Hobson, who planted enough trees – 10,000 at last estimation – to fill an entire 40-acre+ plot of land the on the Lake Michigan shoreline. He then said, “My work is done,” took a nap, and died in his sleep. He knew the importance of being rooted– figuratively and literally. As a result of his labor and forethought, four generations have had the luxury of hiking, hunting, and breathing in “the backwoods.” It is now considered a nature sanctuary, and is maintained by my uncle. He married up, built a house, and settled down in the midst of the trees close to twenty years ago. I don’t know of many sales executives who can explain the ins-and-outs of soil P.H. and most anything else you would want (or not want) to know about dirt over a game of Euchre, but he can. There are an additional three houses on the “Ventura Pines” property; a “cottage” on the lake, an old, renovated Methodist church (aka Grandma’s house), and a farmhouse. Growing up (and later, when I lived there), the grandchildren were tasked with raking and hauling away thousands upon thousands of brilliant, colorful leaves recently shed from the many maples consuming the yard, thanks to great-great-grandpa Albion.
As for my mother’s father, he was a lot of things, but primarily, he was a conservationist– with an Earth Day birthday, no less. He lived in a comfortable, white, two-story house on a country road in Battle Creek, MI, with a black Labrador Retriever named “Zeke” and the world’s best wood-burning stove. His smaller-scale backwoods was comprised mainly of towering pine trees, many of which he planted. Almost every year that I can remember up until he passed away, my two older sisters and I spent Earth Day riding on the wooden lift of his red John Deere tractor. We would venture into the backyard, gripping 5-gallon buckets filled with earth and a lone pine sapling between our knees. I remember how, after we planted our trees, Grandpa would point up to the adult pines around us and say, “One day this little tree will be as huge as these.” While I haven’t taken a detour through Battle Creek on my numerous trips from Holland to Ann Arbor and back again in a long while, I’m sure those trees are mighty pines, now, and hopefully will be for a long time.
Even without a nature-based upbringing akin to my own, something that one becomes accustomed to when one spends one’s entire life in Michigan (or anywhere else with a dramatic autumn), is the time of the year when the leaves catch fire and burn garnet and gold like a botanical grand finale before falling dead to the ground and becoming as brittle and brown as rust. Better than a white Christmas, in my opinion, is an average Fall morning where I wake up to find Grandma’s yard shrouded in the most beautiful patchwork quilt Mother Nature can craft. Yes, even if it means a day of raking.
I live in Nashville, now, and Autumn comes late. Really late. Thanksgiving late. Ugh. From what I’ve been told, there are about ten days of color and then the trees are bare. Thankfully, that’s not entirely true. I’ve managed to find some snatches of color here and there in the past couple of days, but it’s nothing compared to home. It’s like time is different… slowed, perhaps. The visual cues I’m used to seeing, that kept me cognizant of time’s passing are missing. Let’s compare, shall we?
That second picture makes me ache. I love that driveway leading out from Grandma’s. I love those trees. I love those colors. One day, my uncle won’t be there, and the burden will be on the next generation to speak for the trees, and probably plant some, too. Most likely, it will be my responsibility, and that has been made more apparent recently than ever before. I guess I knew that one day I would end up back in Michigan, living through Fall on the lake, because of those stupid trees that I love so much. I will accept that responsibility when the time comes, if it is what must be. But that is far away in the uncertain future, and I have more important things to worry about than who will take care of the trees 40 years from now.
I have some important decisions to make in the next couple of days, and although I wish I had the familiarity and predictability of a colorful autumn to comfort me as I do so, I don’t. Truth be told, I’m feeling quite rootless and discomforted for more reasons than the lack of color around here. Regardless, I am here, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. So, I must draw on my ancestor’s wisdom. If I am to become rooted, I must plant trees. And now is the time to do so.