Who and what are the proverbial trees in your life to which you make the faithful annual pilgrimages?
My daughter was making her first journey to Appalachia! And knowing we would not see each other that Christmas I leapt at the chance to create a holiday with her in October. Fortunately Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year, upon which I could readily build, with vast support from the magnificent changing of leaves in a North Carolina fall.
I called a tree farm outside Asheville inquiring if he had “anything that looked like a Christmas tree.” Puzzled, he asked why. “Do you really want to know?” I responded, grinning into the phone. He did. I explained that my daughter was coming, that it was her first trip to North Carolina, that I did not anticipate seeing her that Christmas, and that I wanted to make us a pumpkin tree. This man knew how to hear a mother’s heart.
Clearly touched, he invited me to come out, even though it was a wholesale business, and he would “find me something.” I drove myself out into the country with my dog, and eventually spotted the long red gate he had given me as a landmark. I pulled through the gate and found myself entering a magical environment of all manner of trees in pots. I had never been to such a tree farm before, and I was instantly enchanted. When I exited from the car a warm young man came out to greet me, anticipating who I was. He indicated I should follow him and I followed his lead through pots and pots of trees, about which I could scarcely contain my curiosity, until we stopped before what appeared to be some kind of small and noble cedar. I felt strangely comfortable with its green upward spiraling flat branches. It was a narrow tree, about five and a half feet high, and he called it an arborvitae. “Tree of life,” I smiled excitedly. “I’ll take it!” When I arrived home I wetted it down, then brought it inside (promising the tree it was only for a few days) and began the joyful task of wrapping smiling round pumpkin lights about its limbs, then topping it off with a long strand of shiny red and gold tiny autumn leaves. I plugged in the pumpkin lights and stood back to admire my creation: A Pumpkin Tree!
I grinned with glee and anticipation of my surprise. A couple of welcoming gifts wrapped in orange and gold papers with Halloween stickers strategically placed about the packages finished off the project. When Antonia arrived, tired from the long journey, the tree stood in a living room corner in shining festive welcome and as she spotted it, her weary face broke into a broad grin. I was so tickled, so pleased.
So now I own two trees. An old ginkgo and a Western Red Cedar, as it turns out, which, curiously, really belongs in the Pacific Northwest.
Nomadic as I am known to be, I am the owner and caregiver of two trees, who will now make their way with me in my travels. Somehow they give me great comfort. I fantasize, and have spoken with family members about placing these trees in our family cemetery plot. Here lie my great-grandmother and great-grandfather and grandmother and great-aunt, and a bevy of cousins are buried nearby, throughout the small town cemetery. The plot was purchased over one hundred years ago for us by my great-grandfather, a true investment in a longterm proposition, which is, in fact, what a tree is about. One day perhaps I will be buried there and my body, first purified in the grace of fire, will become part of these trees I nurture, who in return nurture me.
The trees in my life are not all physical and recognizable trees. There are the traditions, maintained devotedly year to year, creating the substance of family memories on which we hang our lives. Chai on Christmas morning. Gingerbread and popovers and the familiar ornaments that carry their special memories year after faithful year. Graves tended. Birthdays honored. Scrapbooks and photo books marking the passages of life. A wedding veil passed from grandmother to daughter to sister to grandchild. Stories long told from generation to generation, each word repeated faithfully as it was first heard by a grandchild or greatgrandchild. Such is the stuff of families, the roots of which go long and deep before us.
Who and what are the proverbial trees in your life to which you make the faithful annual pilgrimages? What does the honoring of these longheld traditions give in return? How does change or turning away from them affect your heart and soul? How can they be maintained, tended, and cared for in a world that will not stand by waiting for us, but catapults us further into a future we cannot predict, that we cannot count on to stay the same? What will you take in your hand, your heart, your being to sustain you on this ever-changing road, the trees of your life that lend substance, courage, strength, rootedness, and meaning?
By Kathryn Hall
This is an excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden by Kathryn Hall. Please visit www.plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com for more information.