Thursday, September 8, 2011

Of Sticks and Sons

“Why are you putting all those sticks in the ground?” asked the little boy, looking down at Hubby and me on our knees in the mud.
“These aren’t sticks,” we laughed. “They’re trees!” He looked dubious, and I couldn’t blame him. The tiny saplings indeed looked like mere sticks—they had no branches or leaves and only a few roots. Fifty of them fit into one bucket!
We planted hundreds of trees that day and have done so several times since, doing our part to enhance the environment as well as increase the profits of companies that produce OTC pain relievers. (Tree planting wouldn’t be so hard on the knees and back if the bulk of the work could be done above ground level!)
Anyone who has planted trees knows the investment of time required to nurse a “stick” into a tree. When I heard the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” I laughed at its truth. Everything else we plant—grass, crops, flowers, vegetables—nearly always grows to maturity in a year or two, but trees take years, even decades.
Wyoming is no Garden of Eden either. Saplings face enemies like sub-zero winters, hot and dry summers, choking weeds, alkaline soil, brutal winds, and munching mule deer . In order for young trees to survive and thrive here, we Johnny Appleseeds have to help them out with irrigation, mulch, weeding, fertilizer, and protective fencing—not to mention splints made from sticks, socks and duct tape!
Tree husbandry can be quite rewarding when a “stick” you planted three years ago finally has a trunk strong enough for the cat to climb, branches sturdy enough to support a songbird, or shade enough for the dogs on a hot summer afternoon. This summer, I discovered a red-winged blackbird nest in a little silver buffaloberry we’d planted just over a year earlier! Even though the nest was partially supported by a thistle, I felt a certain parental pride, the kind I felt when Zach played Theodore Roosevelt in his 2nd grade history play, or made his first layup in 5th grade basketball.
The most gratifying thing about tree parenting, I think, is that, after all the investment of time, work and love that you put into saplings, they don’t pack their bags and move to India!

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