Not until well past three score and ten did I begin to think of trees as teachers.
Each day now, reaching for another branch of maturity, the first thing we see from our window to the west is the ambitious green ash growing and claiming its share of the sky. We planted it there as a sapling in honor of the Prathers, one of the stalwart Plum Lick families who lived here before us. Their descendants have been coming back for reunions, finding shade and soft breezes blowing through.
From the rocking chair on the front porch, the view to the north includes the sprig that decided entirely on its own that it would take the place of the octogenarian water maple. It had withstood many a storm until the one that brought it down inches from the corner of the house where so many children have been born, and so many matriarchs and patriarchs have been honored in death. The sapling knows only youthful thoughts, which is good.
On the northern side too is the new purple plum tree replacing the cedar where the eight Prather boys climbed and posed on stobs for a once-in-a-lifetime picture to be taken. The purple plum has a fragment and fragrance of memory. The Prather boys will not be forgotten, nor will the dream be denied that new generations will climb.
Through the kitchen window, looking to the east for the rising of the sun over Bunker Hill, the heart of lives is sometimes bright but just as often concealed in fog and cloud. The important thing is knowing it is there for the mulberry growing horizontally as well as vertically. The sparrows are grateful too, if gratitude is part of their plans and the songs they sing. The mulberry aspires for breadth as well as height, which is a reminder to human beings that stature is an individual matter. It’s a reminder to the nearby tulip poplar, which we call “Judge,” because it came from Gov. Bert T. Combs’ “Fern Hill” in Powell County, a reminder that danger blows with its ill wind and now is the time to live.
There’s the young magnolia gracing the southern view from the breakfast table. Two lovers planted it there in loamy space dug with a common garden shovel, then watered and enriched it in the flowering of each new morning. One day, other lovers may kiss beneath the blossoms, and it won’t matter who planted—only that joy lives.
Well, we’ve circled this old house as trees have embraced it on every side. The road leading in may one day be lined with sugar maples and dogwoods, past the weeping willows and the sycamores taking root along the banks of Plum Lick Creek. We’ve saved the seed of the seasons, and yes, once there were these two people who decided the roadway to the homeplace should include trees carefully placed as keepsakes for the future.
It would only be fitting that the two creations at the entrance would be the pair of purple plums, not as sentries questioning arrivals, nor as honor guards in times of leaving, but as welcoming doormen as trustful as they are vigilant.
Trees are teachers and in the month of opening school doors, there’s another opportunity for considering the lessons of the oak, the buckeye, and the locust.
That’s why the old man mowing the tall grass in the verdant summer of 2004 decided to leave a volunteer locust sprig to grow and prosper on the eastern side of the house. The wish is that it become neither post nor firewood, but a sign of peace in this and every land.
Trees, like people, need room to breathe, becoming their truest selves without hurting others. Trees are reminders that the world is a place for putting down lasting roots.