He planted one for each child. Not a tree from a nursery: he went into
the woods and chose the sapling himself. An oak for the boy, and later,
a mountain ash for the girl. No significance to the species; they were
just trees he liked. Hardwoods to outlive him, as these infants would.
She didn't like the idea. What if it doesn't grow? she asked.
What if some disease affects the leaves or a worm attacks it from
within? What happens to the tree would seem like an omen for the
They're just a couple of trees, he said.
Still, she watched for signs. When she spread a blanket under the oak so
the boy could play, she looked uneasily up at the branches, searching
for scale and mildew or evidence of scorch. She checked the leaves for
blisters and canker worm, for rollers and the gross deformities known as
galls. She found books with pictures of fire blight and scurfy that
might attack the mountain ash, learned to recognize the woolly aphid,
the round-headed borer, the blister mite.
She thought it was her diligence that kept her children safe. He never
told her that he'd planted several, one tree after another, until
one finally took. He was careful not to let her see him spray the
branches before bud-break. Or hand-pick the leaf rollers and tent
caterpillars that invaded despite his careful regimen.
It was ice that eventually brought the trees down, but by then the
children were grown.