If you want to make it home, plant a tree! Trees are our statement of faith in the future, our daily journal of the present, the repository of memories of days gone past. Trees are an invitation to birds and wildlife. Trees are the budding promise of spring, the cooling shade from summer's scorching heat, a circus of color in the fall, and in winter, the stark reminder of the necessity of bones and framework to the form and shape of our lives. Trees are a metaphor for the cycle of our own days – and those of our parents and our children.
And what is it about trees that are so irresistible to children? Certainly, every yard worthy of the name must have a “climbin’ tree” where a kid can scale to the heights to get perspective on life, escape a bully, or hide from siblings. A great tree is a “jungle gym” and a hut where the Mowgli in each kid can come to the surface. It should have one great horizontal limb from which a swing can hang with long ropes that lets a kid (or a grown-up) swoop out over the hillside to survey all his or her domain. When Bill and I first built our house fifty-two years ago, we planted trees, many of which were saplings we rescued from the creek side when we dredged out our pond. One was a silver maple which we planted because we knew it would grow fast. By the time the kids were ready for school, the tree was ready for them. They would hide notes in the knothole in the trunk, use it as a launching pad for Star Wars invasions, and climb high enough to eat peanut butter sandwiches out of our collie’s reach. Soon they were good enough climbers to be on a first name basis with the black squirrels and the blue jays.
These days the silver maple has made the upstairs porch seem like a tree house and our children’s children have claimed it for their own. The twigs that blow down when we have a storm are still collected to start fires in the kitchen fireplace, while bigger limbs are trimmed back and used for bonfires at the creek.
Many an afternoon nap has been stolen on an old quilt we spread under the tree. Sometimes apple slices, graham crackers and white icing sandwiches and cold glasses of milk turn the quilt under the tree into an impromptu picnic.
The willow tree by the pond marks our favorite fishing spot; the magnolia by the garden swing is a great place to hide. The pines shelter the tall steel swing set while the “sweet pea trees” attract honey bees and hummingbirds. The English walnut that arches over the pool and the orchard began in a coffee can from a seed planted by a teenage boy named Michael, and the spruces came to our yard as seedlings from my parents' “Christmas tree farm” churchyard in Michigan. Bill’s grandpa Grover saved the hard maple seedlings along Hanna Street by tying white rags across them back when the bulldozers were shaping our home site four decades ago. Now they form an arbor over our street like a welcome arch. And the two hundred arbor vitae that formed a green thirty-foot hedge on the east property line were planted when they were barely 12 inches high by Bill, his dad, and his grandpa.
The lilacs were a gift from a friend, and the pink dogwood down by the English Garden fence came from my parents because its blossoms remind us of the cross. The apple tree in the English Garden came up on its own from seeds I shook out of my tea towel on the days I sat on the garden bench peeling apples and reading James and the Giant Peach to our children.
Friends who come to see us will likely as not get you a tree tour. Every tree has a story. And those stories are so woven into the fabric of our family’s sense of place that we can hardly tell where we stop and the trees begin.
When someone we love builds or buys a new home, we usually send a tree. We know that no matter where you live, it will never be “home” until you plant a tree.