Planting trees when the world seems to be going to pieces

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Planting trees when the world seems to be going to pieces

May 03, 2020 - 14:05
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The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

It’s spring in our backyard and that’s always cause for joy and hope.

All of our trees are heavily budded and pregnant with the possibilities of leaves, seeds, flowers — a once-a-year treat for the human senses.  

Buds on the maple are bursting into tiny whirly seeds. On our two small oaks, the branches are tipped with what will soon emerge as pink flowers.

The three pawpaw trees in the back of the yard are dotted with scores of pea-sized buds. If all goes well this year, the buds will become flowers and, if pollinated, have a chance of turning into fruit this fall.

I have written before about my peculiar obsession with pawpaws, the only true native American fruit-bearing tree. A couple of years ago, we had a tiny yield of banana-like fruit – that had never happened before. Last year, however was a disaster. Severe and constant rainstorms in May destroyed the flowers so there was no chance for any fruit.

This year I am optimistic about a good pawpaw harvest.

In the next few days, I am expecting our pair of Amelanchier trees to go into full bloom. The photo I have provided shows them on the day this is being written.
 


The Amelanchiers, nearly in bloom. (Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)

Amelanchiers have many names – serviceberry, juneberry, shadbush and more. They produce berries and we planted them to attract a specific type of bird, the cedar waxwing. That hasn’t happened but the Amelanchiers are still a success. They explode into pink and white flowers in late April and the berries turn up within the next week. 

After that, our backyard birds, especially the cardinals and robins, feast on the berries. The Amelanchier fruit only lasts for a few days. The fruit, incidentally, tastes like blueberries and we have a friend who has harvested her own tree and put them into muffins.

There’s a lot going on in the yard besides the trees. We are starting to see more rabbits and an opossum moseys across the lawn a couple of times a week. We have had deer in the yard this year, sometimes as many as eight at a time.

Last night, a Mallard couple flew into the yard. Patty put out some millet seed under the bird feeder and the ducks made themselves at home for close to an hour. We have had Mallards before and know the routine. Mrs. Duck eats the seed while her mate stands guard. I have read that some male Mallards have notoriously bad behavior and standing guard is a good idea to make sure that a third duck does not turn up to cause trouble.

The male gets a chance to eat when Mrs. Duck is finished. Last night they took a stroll into our neighbor’s yard after the meal but she came back to our feeder for seconds, and then thirds.

I was raised a German Lutheran – that surprises some people since I have such an Irish name. From time to time I remember a quote attributed to Martin Luther, the revolutionary founder of that faith: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

I probably first heard that quote during a sermon when I was a teenager. And I probably wondered what the heck Luther was talking about way back in the 1500s. Is that any way to prepare for the end of the world?

Now I know what he meant. Hard times, and maybe the end of everything, may always be around the corner. Buy we have to keep trying as long as we have another breath coming. We have to keep living. We can’t give up.

Like the rest of you, I have never seen a spring like this one. The world we have known for so long changed utterly in what seems like a few moments. The H-F Chronicle has done its best to keep up with those changes.

The three of us who are in charge of the paper – Eric, Marilyn and myself – met over Zoom about a week ago and realized that the Chronicle has been running about twice as many stories as usual during the pandemic. Some of that is due to the information from state and country health officials that we have been regularly running. But we also have a substantial amount of more locally generated copy as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’d like to do our part. These days, I am mostly at home although Patty and I go for regular walks and I go to the grocery store at least once a week. I know that other people are out there every day, not only healthcare workers and first responders but also people who work in groceries, delivery services and take-out restaurants. Proper words of gratitude fail me right now and all I can say is “thank you.”

I only hope that when the crisis ends, all of you who were there for all of us will be recognized and you will finally be justly compensated for the value of your work. The pandemic has exposed the fault lines of inequality in our society and that is one American shortcoming that must be addressed if this country is to survive. 

Surviving the next few months means more isolation in a world without many of those things we like the best. It’s hard to see how there will be any baseball this year. Restaurants and bars, as places to meet with other people, won’t be back anytime soon. I miss going to the library. I miss seeing my kids and grandkids most of all.

Nothing about the coronavirus is fair. But I’d like to say a few words to our young people. I am not sure that anyone who is young enough to be one of my grandchildren will care to hear what I say, but I will give it a shot anyway.

It is incredibly unfair when school graduations are called off. When you work hard as students you deserve to be recognized. It is also incredibly unfair when opportunities for the next step in your life – going to college or finding a job – are seemingly shattered right before your eyes.

I say this as someone who has been around for a long time and has had his own share of hardship and struggle. Life is never easy but you, as young people, are witnessing firsthand how hard the struggle can be. The good news is that you have your youth and time is on your side.

The world is probably not going to pieces tomorrow. And you will have lots of opportunities to plant your own apple trees. Keep at it and don’t give up.