Making a little difference.
I WAS RACING against the clock--against the threat of being overtaken by a rush of early snow and deep frost. My muscles yearned for rest. My fingers yearned for warmth. My nose yearned for Kleenex.
We had just learned the timbered tract south of our Wisconsin home was on the market. We cherish our sylvan seclusion; our favorite saying is: "Happiness is never having to draw the drapes." So an urgent objective was resounding in my mind: "Plant a border-screen of pines." And the time was now, before a sharp freeze turned the ground granite-hard.
A multitude of young Norway pines thrive throughout our acreage, but I was determined to be extremely selective, recalling the story about the old gent who trudged up to the checkout with a bottle of wine. "Sir," said the clerk, "that brand's on special if you buy a case." "Young lady," the oldster said, "at my age I don't even buy green bananas!"
"At my age," I said aloud, traipsing with readied shovel into our woods, "I don't plant small trees." I'd dig out only five- to seven-footers. That meant a heavy rootball to hoist into the cart, but it would be worth it.
Conditions were perfect: dormant trees, moist soil that held together well, invigorating air. So I dug, hoisted, hauled, cleared competing brush, dug again, planted, watered, added enriched soil, tamped, straightened, tamped again, watered again, added peat moss, and set off for another choice Norway.
All through the day I repeated that routine. Next morn, after a deep and dreamless sleep, I plunged into the task again, spurred by lower temperatures. And the next day. And the next, with the cold ominously intensifying.
With snowflakes starting to whirl down and frigid air stiffening the soil, I tamped in the last pine--Norway No. 57. My bosky border was complete, from road to river. A living boundary to preserve our sylvan sanctuary. I wearily tramped the line for a recount. Yup--57! I hauled my lame lumbar to the house with a triumphant glow mollifying my aches and twinges.
Long after we two have rounded the final bend in our lifestream, our former sanctuary will be graced with a lofty row of red pines, crowns aspiring toward greater heights, orange-tinged trunks gleaming in sunlight, long-needled boughs swaying in soothing windsong. Perhaps that screen of verdant grandeur will be the most lasting mark we'll leave behind us--and that would be a satisfying thing.
Compared to trees, we puny humans are a transient species. Take the General Sherman sequoia, earth's largest living thing, which has known life for 2,500 years. Or the western juniper in the Sierra Nevada that has endured since about 2000 B.C.
A tree is a thing to admire, as well as to shrink the human ego. It seeks only its share of soil, water, and sunlight. It lusts not for fame or fortune. It purifies rather than pollutes the atmosphere. It brings beauty and tranquility to the world.
Years ago, I read an unforgettable line in American Forests. The article described a retired forester, out on his land in somber and hostile weather, kneeling upon the earth to plant seedlings. . . "trying to make a little difference on this side of eternity."
In our remaining years we'll come to sense the full meaning in that phrase, and in poet John Keats' line: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." We'll have the pleasure of watching the ever-green, ever-growing border along our sanctuary multiplying its luxuriant needle-clusters; of hearing those sentinels sing softly in the wind; of seeing their boughs becoming more and more intimately intertwined. We'll marvel as a myriad of cone-miracles appear, and as lithe, orange-brown trunks grow ever broader and taller. Now and then we'll exchange smiles as we repeat our old saying: "Happiness is never having to draw the drapes."
And perhaps we'll also come to say, with more humility than pride: Maybe--for at least a blink of time--we've "made a little difference on this side of eternity."
PHIL CARSPECKEN--Long-time AMERICAN FORESTS member Phil Carspecken tends his trees in Mosinee, Wisconsin.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 1994|
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