When I was born, almost 55 years ago, my father planted a tree—a sugar maple—for me. He planted it probably 10 feet from the driveway, down a small hill. The hill made the branches visible from the kitchen window, a frame for watching it over the years. It is my favorite tree in the yard, not because it’s “mine,” but because it is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen.
My father often planted what looked to be twigs in the yard—any yard—wherever we lived. Spindly sticks would turn into trees. He tended to trees—really any growing thing—very earnestly and unforgivingly. Tree trunks were made to grow straight, rows in vegetable gardens were laid out with chalk lines. He had no qualms about thinning out bunched up beet or bean or corn seedlings. For much of the summer, my family would can or freeze or pickle all the things he grew. He hunted, and we ate venison and deer bologna. He fished, and we ate trout.
And yet the pragmatic West Virginia farm boy planted a tree when I was born. He planted trees for his grandchildren, up until Alzheimer’s rendered him mute. My tree outlived him, shading the house he built. It is perfectly shaped, with a straight, strong trunk, and shimmering yellow, orange, red leaves every fall.
Herbarium specimen featured in header