It is an act of faith – like old Abraham, I believe in something I will not live to see fulfilled.
Mine is not blind faith. I have plenty of evidence to fortify my belief. One of the few benefits of becoming an old forester is that I have been around long enough to see some of the trees that I planted grow up like children. Pine seedlings that once fit in bundles of five or six in my hand grew tall in the Alabama sun, silent witnesses to sun and night sky, rainfall and drought. Migrations of twittering neo-tropical birds sat in their branches, while men and woodland creatures passed by on the ground. They stood strong in their appointed time, swaying along with gentle breezes and violent storms through the rhythmic cycle of seasons.
I often note these places in my travels – scattered swathes of ground on which I made my mark. Seedlings I once tended have grown tall enough to be thinned once for pulpwood (allowing the strongest to grow faster) and then eventually clearcut. Processed by men with big machines, they were hauled-away to be reconfigured and sent out to the world for needful things – lumber, paper, and thousands of other products often overlooked. Dispersed to every corner of the world, they serve their appointed purpose. Perhaps even now they are an anonymous framework in the walls of your home, or disguised as the pages of your favorite book. You might encounter their essence in an even more personal way, as you reach for that roll that hangs on your bathroom wall.
The places my trees have gone – the things they have “seen.”
This winter I planted seedlings yet again. I make a fresh statement of faith, a re-dedication of belief, a new living monument on my own little patch of ground. This act is done with full recognition that the cycle of life for trees in the South is not that different from the lives of people. Both squat here in the dirt for a generation, making the most of where we are planted and the resources at our disposal, and then move on. Hopefully we make an impact – become useful to someone or in some way that lasts beyond the brevity of our stay.
My latest seedlings are different from those before. They are longleaf pine — long-lived creatures as southern tree species go — and they will likely stand tall on my little corner of the earth long after I am under the dirt. They will take their time, and I am content to let them.
And if my faith is rewarded, then somewhere down this winding road of rebirth and renewal a grandchild may walk among these pines and pause for a moment to reflect “Pops planted these trees.”