This week, in three days, I planted 300 trees, a hundred cedar, 200 Sitka spruce. Every morning it was bright and cold, about 34 degrees. Frost was on the ground. One time a bald eagle greeted me with some wonderful overhead circling. Quiet reigned on the little hillock I was planting at the edges, to create a windbreak for a new home, and to suppress and insidious invasive species that threatens total dominion of the area unless tall trees throw shade and kill it with the darkness. But that’s 40 years from now.
If you think about it, tree planting is about the only thing Americans attempt at improving the chances of the planet’s survival. Certainly our education system isn’t doing that. High tech is the antithesis of tree planting. So is consumerism.
I did say that quiet reigned over the planting, that is until later in the morning when I heard the toots, whistles and chainsaws from a nearby clearcut. They were murdering. I was giving life. That’s a powerful thing to consider and I let it imbue my work.
It was such good and rewarding effort, although it also kicked my ass. I labored largely alone, with my mind engaged with anything that happened to slip inside, such as past loves, recent traumas, obscure rock songs (“Cadillac Ranch”) and my ten years (98-08) of service as caretaker of the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (The photo is of Sonny the husky on the refuge.)
During my time there, I planted around 3000 trees myself to restore a wrecked piece of land and also oversaw the planting of another 10,000 trees on the refuge and other parts of the watershed. As a result, I became a master tree planter and taught many others the skill. It was probably the best teaching I ever did: inmates, students, senior citizens, tourists, teachers and many other groups. Perhaps the best times of my adult life were planting on that refuge with my dogs. Some of those trees are pushing 80 feet. I know every one of them
Now, 12 years later I was in a different clobbered watershed and it didn’t take much time for the tree planting technique I’d honed so many years before to return, along with the muscle memory and hearty rushes of spirit of doing something as simple and beautiful and important as planting a tree. If you plant a tree well, it will make it. On the Oregon Coast, it might live to 200-400 years and will surely outlast the United States of America.