Last week when I visited my mother, at night as she lay snuggled under the quilt on her bed I read aloud to her from chapters in Robert Fulghum’s ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. Mom had been a kindergarten teacher at one time, and before she became lost in dementia, she really enjoyed this book.
But that evening I flipped the book open to the wrong chapter about villagers in the Solomon Islands who had a unique way of taking down a tree. They didn’t chop it down with axes; the entire village yelled at the tree every day for a month, and the tree fell over. When I read this aloud, Mom frowned. With her eyes still closed she scrunched up her face and adamantly shook her head NO!.
After my parents built our house on a large empty lot in 1953, my mother planted 16 varieties of trees (27 trees, total) and did all the landscaping herself. She has always loved trees, and by example she taught me to love them, too.
As an apology for reading about the villagers killing trees by yelling at them—even though it was meant as a lesson for children to always using kind, gentle words—and also in tribute to my mother, I dedicate this post to all of us who love trees. And just for the record, to make up for my mistake that night, I read aloud to Mom for another hour, but only from the chapters that made her smile.
As Andrea Koehle Jones wrote in THE WISH TREES, “I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”
And as a concluding reminder of the long-term importance of trees, Jim Robbins, author of THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES, wrote this: “Planting trees may be the single most important ecotechnology that we have to put the broken pieces of our planet back together.”
53 responses to “STRENGTH FROM DEEP ROOTS”
Sometimes your posts bring a tear to my eye! This is one of those posts. I too would frown, if I were your mother. Trees are quiet strength personified. And dignity. And grace. Like your mother, I’ve planted many trees. Loved them all. Lovely words, Marylin.
Aw, I didn’t want to make you sad, too, Julia. I felt bad enough with my mom, but she rallied by the end of the next hour of happier chapters.
I learned my love of planting trees, watching them grow and watering them, and the joy of lying on a blanket under the branches and reading from doing all of these things with my mom. There really is strength in deep roots.
There is a beautiful children’s book called “The Giving Tree” . My father planted many trees for the village. He liked fruit trees,
The GIVING TREE was one that made me cry, Gerlinde.
I hope that the trees your father planted for the village made everyone grateful; that’s quite a generous gift.
I also cried
The Giving Tree is still one of my all time favorites. One of my students checked it out from the library last week, and just seeing the cover of the book brought up overwhelming feelings. I had always thought of my mom being just like the tree in that book…she gives and gives and gives of herself to me (and my family) never asking for anything in return. In addition to thinking of her with that book, I think of how I feel about my own children and my students. I will do anything for them!
When I start losing my leaves and branches, then I’ll slow down, Mookie. Actually, Dad and I both agree that you and our grandkids keep us tired…in a good, busy, very happy way. ❤
Strength form deep roots”….a real naturality .Thanks to remind Me.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Trees are the best metaphor I can think of for illustrating deep family roots. I’m sure you remember one I wrote when the grandchildren planted an oak in their great-grandma’s memory.
I recall reading an anecdote from the Robert Fulghum book to my college students: the one about the narrator, Robert, I suppose, trying to conceal his ignorance about hooking up jumper cables. You know the one. 🙂
Next week I travel to PA to visit my Aunt. It will be a bitter-sweet reunion. I want to show her a blog post I’ve written in honor of her 98th birthday.
Lovely title – poignant post. Thank you, Marylin.
I do remember your post about the grandchildren planting the tree in their great-grandma’s memory, Marian. Their own great-grandchildren will appreciate the story as they sit in the shade of that tree.
Fulghum is a jewell of a writer; he takes the most basic and simple situations and turns them in to honest lessons.
At my mother’s 98th birthday in July, she would not have understood such a tribute. Blessings on you and your aunt, Marian.
What a beautiful post, Marylin. One of my favorite trees is the Weeping Willow. I remember the first time I saw one as a child. It was standing tall and all alone in a large meadow. It was truly a thing of beauty.
Happy Birthday, my friend! Enjoy your special day!
The only tree I wanted in our big yard–but my mother wouldn’t plant one–was a Weeping Willow, Jill. She loved them, too, but the water table was so high that willow roots went right to them and wrapped around water and sewer lines, and everyone was advised not to plant them in their yards.
Thank you, Jill. I had a wonderful birthday! Scout was at Camp Bow Wow, so Jim and I had a full day to eat out, shop, see a movie, and have a great day.
Jill, the first weeping willow I ever saw was across the street from my grandma’s house. I was fascinated by the tree. I always thought how wonderful it would be to make a fort under (and behind) all the lovely weeping branches. But as my mom’s reply to you stated, my grandma (and mom) always warned that you don’t plant weeping willow close to your home because they can do so much damage to water pipes. I still think that they are some of the most beautiful and elegant trees around.
Molly’s right, Jill, and Weeping Willows make the best ever trees to hide under or make a fort, or just lie on a blanket and think. Great trees, but they can do damage to water pipes.
Jim just planted five peach trees on our property Marylin. He has been saving peach pits for years but nothing ever came of them. 😀 He planted two earlier in the summer so now we have seven. We are avid tree lovers here!
We had two peach trees in our back yard when I was growing up, Joanne, but Mom didn’t plant peach pits.
A friend out in the country was putting in a long driveway and dug up three of the little peach trees and gave them to us. Only one withered and died; the other two didn’t have a lot of peaches each year, but enough to make a couple of pies! Ah, the wonder of trees!
How sweet that your mother did not like the part you read as it was negative. My dad loved trees. There weren’t very many on the prairies so they were precious to him. A stay seed landed in a ditch on a road near the farm. A tree started to grow. He was concerned that the mowers would kill it so he wrote a letter to the municipality to save the little tree. It worked. The mowers bypassed it. When he died 9 years ago we planted a tree in his name at the local museum grounds. Last time I visited it was big and strong like he was! Your posts evoke fond memories.
Oh, Darlene, what wonderful memories you have of your father. Every year on Molly’s birthday, a friend gave us a small Aspen tree to plant. By the time she was in third grade we had a grove of Aspens that she called her own. Then when we ran out of space, she chose a type of rose bush, her favorite was the Queen Elizabeth rose bush, and she love having blossoms in vases that were “hers.”
I also had my little pine tree in the front yard that stayed so much smaller than me for so many years – and then suddenly shot up. It was such a sweet tree. I still miss that it is not in the yard anymore.
We planted that little tree, and like you, I miss it and wish it was still growing in the yard. But that was one of the drawbacks of renters trimming the bushes and tree… 😦
That book must have touched your mother at a very deep place; it is likely good that she could let you know, and that you also helped amend the offense. A powerful reminder that we never know what people wish they could tell us or express, even with dementia.
I may have told you my 92-year-old mother reads to a high school friend I’ll call Betty, who is in health care at her same retirement complex. One day as my mother and I were going through some of her own things, she found a family history Betty’s husband, a pastor, put together for them years ago — maybe 10-15. My mother had almost tossed it out earlier; it wasn’t her family, afterall. They did go to the same church. But finding that family history at this point in her friends life has been a special godsend–Mom reads from it to Betty who loves it, except for the very painful parts (loss of two children) which mother skips over. Just some thoughts I had in reading your piece today.
Melodie, what an amazing story. I’m glad your mom didn’t toss out the family history. She couldn’t have known it at the time, but I’m sure it did play an important role late. Your mother is 92 and reading to her friend Betty…what a wonderful gift to give a friend. My mother stayed active with friends until she was 88, but then the dementia set in without a few years after my dad died of Alzheimer’s.
All these things friends and family members do to help others “remember and connect” is so important. Thank you for sharing this account.
Marylin, as always your photos make me smile. Trees are truly a gift from God and we have a responsibility to care for our planet. Glad you were able to turn your mom’s frown into a smile as you continued reading from your book made from trees. Enjoy your weekend. ❤️
It’s been a warm, sunny weekend when the trees are just beginning to turn colors, Tracy. As we drove around today I thought of the post and how Mom reacted to the “yelling down the trees,” and I understood it.
How I love trees, too! We recently had to have one removed at our new abode and I even miss it. Hopefully we will be able to replace it soon.
When fire blight finally killed our huge old Red Delicious Apple tree, Nancy, we had to have it taken out and it was hard on all of us. Even the grandchildren had picked apples and helped in making pies, so it was a big deal. We used the space for planting assorted flowers and bushes because we couldn’t decide on another tree.
Nancy, we lost two trees this summer, and it was heartbreaking to me. I love a yard with lots of big trees to provide personality, shade, and a sense of strength to a yard.
So I guess that’s two more votes for replacing the tree you had to remove, Nancy. 😉 Molly and I want you to have another tree to love.
Marylin ~ Your beautiful post reminded me of my father. He loved trees and was always bringing trees in different varieties home. He would find saplings and bring them home and plant them in the back yard. He took great of the trees, trimming them, pruning them, etc. When my oldest was 9 months old we were visiting my parents. We were sitting on the porch and watching my father trim trees. Joshua was on my lap and every time a limb/branch fell from the tree, about 50 yards away, Joshua would let out a wail and cry. We never did figure out what he found to be so upsetting with the limbs falling but I had to take him inside so as not to keep upsetting him. My father felt bad but at the same time got a giggle out of it. Thank you for jogging my memory. XO
Oh, I love this story, Robyn. I can’t prove it, but I think Joshua had inherited his grandfather’s love of trees–and feeling for them–and he didn’t like any part of them being cut down. When Joshua moves into his own home–or even now, at your house–you should plant a Joshua Tree for him and tell this story. 🙂 ❤
Oh, I love trees! The smooth bark of the beach, the beautiful ginkgo leaves…I had a favorite apple tree which I climbed in childhood–so much so,that I wore the bark to a sheen in some places.
These tree memories are close to our hearts, aren’t they? I hope you’ve planted apple trees wherever you’ve lived since then, Jane, kind of a Johnny Appleseed effort to spread the wonder of apple trees! 🙂
I loved that your Mom recognised the story but didn’t want to hear it! It reminded me of when I was very young and my father would read to me. As a child, we like to have the same thing read over and over, right? Dad would change the endings of my familiar stories and I’d get so mad! And apparently, I never let him read out the bit that said “and they all lived happily ever after” 😀
I think you are so right about this, Jenny. With her dementia, Mom is like a child, and she lives more clearly in the past! That makes more sense! 🙂
Indeed, trees are pretty, give us shade, and sometimes produce something juicy to eat. But there’s more, and your title for this post nails it. Trees make us feel like we belong. I think that’s why our family has always preferred established neighborhoods with old houses surrounded by tall trees with deep roots. ❤
And remember, honey, how sad it was when fire blight ended our huge, ancient red delicious apple tree and we had to have it taken down? But I don’t regret that we had a portion of the deck built to include the tree; it was worth it to let the kids pick apples (mostly off the ground when they fell) for a few years. Ah, our love of trees! Love you lots. ❤
I don’t even want to talk about when the apple tree had to be cut down, or MY aspen grove, or the crab apple tree! I hate when anything dies, apparently I am just too over emotional! 😦
At grandma’s house there was always a part of the yard that was in shade – different places during different times of day. I really liked the big coniferous trees that were out by the driveway. They always provided a cool area to stand while grandma or grandpa talked to passers by. It broke the snowfall a little in that area, and so it was an great place to play in the winter time. Not only did grandma have BIG beautiful trees, she had lots of bushes, flowering plants, leafy plants, and even some cactus type plants. There was always something “living” around the entire yard. I miss grandma’s big flowerbed under her picture window. It was always full of tons of flowers, but my favorite were the snap dragons…Grandma always had them “talk” to me (by pinching the sides to make their mouths open and close. I would love to take some snap dragons to grandma and have them “talk” to her!
Mo-Mo, I ❤ your recollections.
Oh, Molly, when you visited Grandma each summer, she loved how you went around picking flowers and putting them in little glasses on the tables. Grandma had growing things in her yard during 3 of the 4 seasons, but the new owners seem to have taken out much of it.
But I also remember how Oma, your other grandma, was so happy on her birthday when you brought her a vase with lovely fresh-cut rose buds from your birthday-planted rose bush, which was a Queen Elizabeth rose. It wasn’t just trees that you loved and used to make such a difference 😉 ❤
Ahh…dear Marylin, I love trees so much. So did my dad. Here in the UK, we have the Woodland Trust. Anyone can buy a tree and dedicate it to a loved one, which is what I’ve done for my dad. You get a map of the wood where the sapling is planted with the name of the person to whom it is dedicated, but none are marked to keep the wood completely natural. My dad gave me a love of trees, and I’ve always believed that they ‘talk; as we walk by them. Full of ancient wisdom, they are…full of memories of happy children walking with their dads in woods filled with their glory 🙂 ❤
Thank you so much, my dear friend…with your encouragement, I will indeed! ❤
Oh, Sherri, you have to use the Woodland Trust and the tree for your dad somewhere–or several places–in your writing. This account comes so tenderly from your heart, and it shows in your writing.
Yes, trees do “talk,” and I think maybe they’re whispering that they want you to write about the Woodland Trust, too. Thanks so much for sharing this. ❤
Aww…thank you so much dear Marylin. I will write about the Woodland Trust and my dad’s tree (I have so much I need to write about my dad…) and I will remember always it was you who urged me to do so…we do indeed gain strength from deep roots <3,
In your writing, weaving the Woodland Trust and your dad’s tree throughout the struggles and lessons and memories might make for an “uplifting” balance, Sherri. You had so many touching, heartfelt things to share, and a unique way with California and British words. 🙂 ❤
Marylin, from the very start you’ve encouraged my writing in such a profound and insightful way. Hubby and I recently spent 10 days in Lake Garda, Italy…a vacation booked early in the year, first time in years, to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary back in March – before Mum’s stroke and my dad’s passing. We didn’t think we would go, but we did and it was there I found my writing inspiration again, in the strong presence of my dad (though he’s never been to Italy so far as I know) with a moment of contentment and calm I haven’t experienced for so long. As if he was urging me to enjoy my life, make every second count, and of course, to keep writing. (I am so grateful that in the last few years of his life, I was able to share my writing with him). This all in a little cafe on a cobbled lane overlooking the beautiful lake, a house to the left with a window with wooden green shutters. That night, I penned a poem, something I haven’t done for so long. I called it Green Shutters. Since we returned, I’ve also returned to my memoir. I thought I had lost it all Marylin, in the deep grief over losing my dad, and I know that grief goes in cycles and there is no time frame. Bad days, good days. But now I can write through it instead of feeling crippled by it. One of the things I’ve struggled with in my memoir is my use of those Californian and British words – I honestly don’t know which is which half the time! So I gave in to it and just write the way that’s natural to me…it’s the only way I know how! Otherwise I feel stifled. So to read your last sentence, now, at this moment, has given me such a very great boost I can’t even tell you. I’m starting to believe I’m on the right track and can move forward…a long time coming. I love sharing all this with you my dear friend, I wish we lived closer! But then you would probably get fed up with me, as I would be always knocking on your door, asking to come in and sit at your table and talk with you about…well…everything! But especially writing 🙂 Much love and big hugs…and thank you so much. Have a beautiful day ❤
Oh, Sherri, I an thrilled that you were encouraged by what I said. You have had difficult time, dear friend, and whether you choose to use California or British words, your heart and feeling are the same and the story will triumph.
What you wrote in the long comment, I truly hope you will copy that and keep it on hand for your memoir writing. “Green Shutters” has given you a new perspective, and that is a glittering gift.
I’m so glad you’re weaving the grief to the back of the page and penning new insights. Keep going, Sherri! ❤
I’ve never met a tree I didn’t like. Though I wouldn’t hug a sumac, I find them freakishly Haute Couture backslash Avant Garde.
In literature, thy tree, rock-paper-scissors the heck out any rivals. Morphing into a multitude of characters. Showing great range, from antagonist, protagonist and foil.
And trees, as friends,we hope, live long and prosper. I cannot imagine life without them.
Strength of Deep Roots. If I had read this title previously, I would have immediately associated the phrase to ‘Things I Want To Tell My Mother’.
Bless you for that closing comment, Calvin. Equating “Strength of Deep Roots” with “Things I Want to Tell My Mother” is very kind and affirming.
May our trees–and our friendships and dreams–live long and prosper. Like you, I cannot imagine life without them. 🙂
Also. You have Sandzen. I had growing up and to some extent now, ‘The Group of Seven’.
Ohh trees and Jim is right, your title nails it. Loving deep roots. A friend is visiting the Westonbirt Arbetorum in the Cotswolds this week. It is our national tree museum. I read your words and a memory floated up. I needed peace very much once and I took myself off for the day to the Tree Cathedral just outside Whipsnade village, It was planted in WWII to foster peace. You would love it there Marylin. Thank you for this post..many hugs and much ❤ flowing to you, Xxx
Tree Cathedral and Woodland Trust…I love these names and wish America had similar national tree museums. If I very much needed peace, I would take a day off and renew somewhere that had been planted in WWII to foster peace. The calm beauty of these places is so appealing, Jane. Hugs and ❤ flowing to you, too, dear Jane.