Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Christie and I spent last weekend at the Dulys' tree farm up by Gallatin. I've been up there before, but this was a working trip; Jim had a couple hundred trees to get in the ground and Billie and Theron volunteered to help, then talked Christie and I into helping them help. We were fill planting, which meant walking through a field that had a clump of grass and weeds every six feet. In the middle of that clump there was either a tree seedling or there wasn't. If there was one, we checked it to be sure it was rooted, if there wasn't, we planted a replacement. After about four hours of that, I'm fairly confident in my ability to tell the difference between northern red oak and walnut (good trees) and cottonwood, milkweed, and other undesirables. There's a poem in here somewhere about kneeling in the rough grass of a mown field, looking over your shoulder to find the row, and drawing a line in the air to the next row over, hoping to find a tree at the intersection.

The problem is that there are so many layers that I'm not sure where to anchor it. All afternoon I found myself marvelling at the trees I was finding and the ones I was planting. They were little more than rooted twigs, but they already had the rich dark color that will make their wood so valuable when Theron's new son, Kelyn, is a middle-aged man, just as Kelyn bears on his face and in his movements tiny flashes of his parents, as well as of the man he will become. Then there's the farm itself, started by Dionne's parents in their retirement and planted with "crops" that won't mature for thirty years or more. Usually more.

Could I ground it in action? The walking, dragging a bucket of trees and a planting tool behind. The kneeling to look sideways across the ground, hoping to see something in profile that you didn't from above. Digging through the grass with gloved hands, knowing a seedling will bounce back upright, while the stems of last year's weeds break off at the earth. Sighting off your neighbors to know where to look, or where to plant.

Or is Kelyn the heart of it all? Lord knows he was the highlight of the weekend. Nothing makes a man feel quite as helpless and useless as a baby that won't stop crying, so I certainly had my misgivings when I was holding him and everybody disappeared to other tasks in other corners of the house. He started to fuss, but I rocked him gently while walking laps around the stairwell and singing a low, wordless tune. He settle back to sleep, and I thought, "I could do this. Not yet, but I could do this."

No comments: