On Saturday I went to Allandale Farm looking for end-of-season hostas. No luck in the perennial section. I wandered by the trees, though, and saw an Eastern Redbud, a good understory tree that I’ve been looking around to buy. This one was about eight feet tall and 50% off. I went home in my little Honda, got Jimmy, and drove back to the farm in the minivan.
The tree fit horizontally in the back of the van, with the hatch open. I rode in the middle seat, holding on to the pot and looking at the branches fluttering out the open back. Another car followed us until we turned, and it did feel like being a kid again and sitting in the way back of a station wagon with the window down. Why that constituted adventure, I’m not sure. But it did.
On Sunday I got the hole started, digging in a corner of our backyard where trees from the three other yards that join ours at that point send out their root system into our patch. I snapped at those suckers with a pruner as a I went. Jimmy returned from an errand and finished the digging and root pruning. It takes about an hour to dig a hole for a small tree.
Gardening is occasionally a fight with the earth, when I am bemoaning weather, shade, or soil conditions — or even neighbor conditions. For example, the folks on our western boundary have a long row of hemlocks affected by that persistent fungus epidemic, and all we can do is live with the showers of needles that are shed from those ailing trees.
On Sunday, however, I had the feeling of planting a tree as being an act of capitulation and acceptance. This is where I live, this is our tiny corner, and this is our dirt. Bringing a tree into the yard seemed like a re-commitment ceremony, a signal that I embrace everything my habitat is and everything it is not.
In my adult life, in my relationships with the people closest to me, and in the roughest times with them, it is often my feeling of having my feet on the ground and my life physically connected to other lives that has reminded me of my place on the Earth: what I’m about, and where I fit in.
I do have those fleeting fantasies of being untethered and not tied to people or property, to live the free-floating life. Like everything that floats, however, there is no shape, color, smell, sound, or weight to that. I picture that as me alone in space and not in a place. That is not adulthood; that’s nothing-hood.
As I was planting my tree — and I reserved the best task for myself, the back filling of the hole with dirt, the mulching, the water — I was contentedly renewing my alliance with the patch of ground I live on and the people I live on it with. This is the you I take care of. I will be here for a while.
And whether this is who I am by nature, or who I have become over time and long habit, does not matter.
Thanks to Mary Schwartz for her suggestion of a title for this post, which is of course an homage to that wonderful novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).