Tree Planting #SOL2021

It had taken a month to find it, but the local nursery finally had a new shipment of flowering cherry trees; there were only four left when we called and three when we got there. We bought it in the rain and planted it in the sun.

Sitting at dinner, looking out the front window, it struck me. This was not the first, but the second tree that I have planted which is intimately connected to some former students. One tree planted for loss. Another tree planted for memories. One tree of a life that was, another of what lives may be.

He was in my grade 9 English class and I knew his mother, a former fellow English teacher, and his ability to gently navigate the world was evident early. He knew and cared about animal rights, took actions to raise money and awareness on Indigenous issues, climate change, but he got headaches often. One cold day, they called me down to the office and sat me around a table with three or four other teachers and the principal told us. There is no way to understand the news of a student’s death – not then, and not now, some four years later when I had hoped to see him graduate. The school community buckled under grief and the curriculum became life.

His friends decided to plant a tree just outside the windows of my ground floor classroom – something strong and hardy and Canadian – a maple. They called it the Dylan Tree Project and we had a ceremony with the planting. The family came – his two younger brothers hovering close to the legs of mum and dad. I have the pictures snapped shakingly, but have never looked at them. The images exist within replayed in memory. One tree planted to remember a life.

Four years later another group of students are planted in my heart. After school had ended, they gathered under a mature cluster of trees at the park down the street for an end of year celebration mixed with an eighteenth birthday, this group of eight students, myself and another teacher. She opened gifts, they ate pizza, and prepared for cake and games. They asked about my university days; I shared anecdotes, joking about age, and they asked me what was my favourite. Twenty-four marked my sense of self, and emerged as one which often hovers in my imagination. But that is so far in the past now, that numerical age has lost this resting sense. Instead, age feels both apart and separate from the self. They hand me an envelope with cherry blossoms and a gift card for a cherry tree. They know I’ve wanted one, couldn’t find one at a greenhouse, but want me to buy one eventually. They wanted to give me something meaningful and lasting and they know I love trees.

We discovered the perfect location on the front lawn, a sloping spot of ground near the verge of our street, Elmgrove Avenue, visible from the front window. Each move in the planting process was considered – a ritual to prepare the ground with mulch and bone meal, nutrients to feed the tender young roots. A constriction formed and grew in my throat throughout the process and I was grateful for sunglasses. Another tree planted to remember a time that was and what lives may be.

11 thoughts on “Tree Planting #SOL2021

  1. I love that you got me thinking about tree planting today, Melanie. We planted seven trees on our property last year. I really want to plant one more, in the front of our house, but keep forgetting to contact the tree nursery. Your slice not only serves as a kick in the pants, but a reminder of why we plant!

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  2. The connection with nature – whether it is with one tree or the whole forest – is grounding in many ways. Trees help us to remember what we need and they themselves will remember us long after we are gone.

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  3. This is such a deeply reflective post on so many levels, Melanie! Congratulations on your new tree. Student loss is so hard. I lost a student who was part of my after-school garden club for two years. He died of leukemia after a 15-month battle. There is a memorial rock in our school garden to help those who might not know his story, remember or learn of it. But, for me, it is the color yellow (a shared favorite) and his early advocacy for monarchs that set this student apart. I think it is both wonderful and important to have physical memories of those who have made an impact on our lives. You captured this importance so well in the blog you shared today. Thank you!

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  4. Oh, this is such a beautiful slice! Such thoughtfulness and care in both your writing and in the moments you capture. Especially love this line: “We bought it in the rain and planted it in the sun.”

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  5. When I saw your tweet about the tree your students gifted you, I wondered if you’d get it a companion. Trees need one another. They are the perfect symbol of community, of communication, of the full range of emotions. And as we know, they are cathartic, as I know these two trees will be for you.

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  6. “We bought it in the rain and planted it in the sun.” While I know that line is about one tree, it feels like the blog post captured in a line. I appreciate the way you weave together grief and hope, connecting us to ritual and noticing how nature is present in all of this. What a lovely post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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