Planting Trees

By: Chris Johnson

A year or two ago while I was working in my yard, my neighbor walked over to chat. He pointed across the street to his walnut tree saying, “That tree is 25 years old today. Do you know how I know? Your grandpa gave it to my wife and I for a wedding present and today is our 25th anniversary.”

I am blessed with great neighbors, in the same neighborhood I grew up in, and, in fact, in the same home that four generations on my mother’s side have raised their children in. My neighbor’s 25 year old tree is almost definitely a descendant from one of the four enormous trees in my own front yard, which have likely shaded five generations now of my family – and which no forester can resist stopping to make an offer on when they drive by.

Long, straight walnut wood is highly sought after by woodworkers and the trees grow slowly, so long, wide slabs are rare and pricey. I don’t know whether Grandpa kept up on lumber prices, but he clearly saw the fruits of these trees as a blessing – which is hard to keep in mind when you’re pulling up the carpet of shells every fall. Besides my neighbor’s wedding present, Grandpa planted a small grove in the backyard as an investment for his descendants.

The energy my grandpa spent on planting trees pales in comparison to the efforts of the Swedish Navy in the 1830s, but they shared a farsighted perspective.

It was not long after the Napoleonic Wars that Sweden sought out to plant over 300,000 oak trees for a future navy. But, the oaks weren’t mature enough to be used until 1975, by which time warships were of course made of iron and steel. Still, that caring eye towards the future stands out, especially in our selfish day. Sweden and my grandpa wanted to make sure that those who came after them were well taken care of.

I’ve stumbled across a few songs recently which have pressed this moral into my mind, and I hope you’ll permit my sharing them with you. One of them is “Planting Trees,” by Andrew Peterson. He compares his memory of planting maple trees with his family to examples of love which will take years to mature: foreign adoption, even something as small as writing a letter, and his final example is his wife:

She rises up
As morning breaks
She moves among these rooms alone
Before we wake

And her heart is so full
It overflows
She waters us with love
And the children grow

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn

The metaphor is apt. The smallest things and most routine things can, when granted time and God’s blessing have massive affect. A few old walnuts can shade your great, great, great grandkids or become beautiful hardwood furniture. A couple hundred thousand acorns could have turned into a fleet of Swedish ships.

I’ve got another song lyric that has been stuck in my head of late, this one about planting sequoia. Giant Redwood. I have a little experience with them, after all. The only forest of these giant trees is in the pacific Northwest, but that is not the only place you can find one.

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Manistee, MI for our anniversary and went hiking. When I saw a sign by the trail that pointed out the path to see the Giant Sequoia, let me tell you, I got excited. A dream come true; I have always wanted to see one of these massive trees. But, I thought, surely if there’s a giant redwood nearby we’d see it from here?

Maybe it’s in a valley, I wondered as we followed the path. We broke through the trees into a clearing with a sign that pointed out the tree, but as I looked around, there was no huge tree. No trunk big enough to drive a car through like I’ve seen in the pictures, no treetop towering over the rest. We wandered around the meadow until we saw the little placard in front of one tree, denoting this as the “Giant” Sequoia. It was smaller than the trees in my yard. Redwoods grow about a foot a year, and this young fellow was only about 80 years old.

John Mark McMillan wrote a song called, “The Road, the Rocks, and the Weeds,” and this is how he wraps it up:

So shall I plant sequoias
And revel in the soil
Of a crop I know I’ll never live to reap?

Then sow my body to my Maker
And my heart unto my savior
And spread me on the road, the rocks, and the weeds

Sequoia take a long time to grow! Those who plant them can be assured that they will never see them mature. And, so it can be with our lives. Some of our actions might be maple trees and some might be redwood trees. Some might be like the boxelder trees around my barn that grew tall in a decade and collapsed under their own weight on my barn! But as we “sow our bodies to our Maker and our hearts to our Savior,” He will bring the increase. All we can do is plant the seeds.

 

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