By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.
I'm not sure I'll ever concede to being "old," but at 60 I've lived a lot of places and left some homes behind. My wife Kim and I have conceived, designed (with help), created, and cared for some really nice outdoor spaces over the years. It occurred to me recently that -- through the magic of Google Maps, Google Earth, etc. -- I can still drop in on any of those places to see what's become of our handiwork.
We bought our first home in Norcross 35 years ago -- your typical starter house on a lot stripped bare in a subdivision with nary a tree in sight. I remember our first summer spent digging nice holes for 50 red-tip photinia bushes that quickly developed a bad fungus and died. I also recall the following year, in late winter, when we ordered "trees" at minimal cost from the local extension service. I borrowed Kim's Nissan pickup on the day I was to get our trees, so it was with a sheepish grin that I took the two-foot-long bundle of red and silver maple seedlings wrapped in wet newspapers and put them behind the driver's seat in the truck. So strong was I back then that I could carry them all by myself!!!
Today, I look at the aerial and street view photos available online through Google Maps, and I can hardly believe those mature maples are the same small sticks we stuck in islands of pine back mulch and spent our summers trying to avoid chopping down with the lawnmower. It staggers the imagination to wonder what small children played beneath those branches over the years, and to ponder what adults they would be today.
Our second home in Lawrenceville four years later was much the same story. Another round of laborious planting (a hedge of roses along a white picket fence and a screening row of leyland cypress), and yet more tiny saplings raised into small trees during our five-year tenure. Soon after moving in, we lost a giant poplar to root damage incurred during construction. It was a huge tree whose girth Kim and I together could not circle with our arms. It was painful (emotionally and financially!) to see it go, but we were determined to plant successors. Today, on Google Maps, I can confirm we did. It's hard to believe I've lived long enough to have birthed trees grown to that size.
We've since lived in Twinsburg, OH, Conyers, GA, and now Covington. And, at each stop, we planted new trees and cared for existing ones. Marvelous wonders I can still check in on today. It's a legacy I'm proud of, but it goes much deeper than that.
Bopping around the planet, chasing careers, quality of life, or a place to be near loved ones, it's easy to feel disconnected from the places left behind, as though they were just dots connecting my own self-focused line on a two-dimensional map. But, looking back, those trees are a connection between us, those places, and the people who lived there after us. They're a living reminder linking me to folks who get to enjoy the same things I did decades ago.
It's a wonderful moment looking back, but it's just as exciting to pay it forward. Let's plant something today, ya'll.
Happy Arbor Day!
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