On Relationship…


I developed a relationship with a young tree. You may be thinking that one cannot have a relationship with a tree. This is 2021, one can have a relationship with whomever one chooses. Hear me out.

There is nothing overtly special about this tree. It is a small Eastern red bud (state tree of Oklahoma) of which there are millions here. The red bud is a resilient little tree species that can grow almost anywhere in Oklahoma. It is not picky about soil quality or hours of sun. Case in point, this little tree, whose misfortune is to be randomly planted next to a stop sign on the side of the road. While the tree was growing fine now, if it were to grow to full height and volume it would block the stop sign and hang out onto the road. Some street maintenance guy would soon be sent to cut it down.

Being late March the first time I noticed the tree, it was in full bloom. It was simply beautiful, and I enjoyed seeing it when I paused at its intersection on my way to and from work. It made me smile. But as the tree and I began to connect, I realized it was in danger of never reaching its full potential. People can easily move out of unsuitable situations, having feet and all. The tree can’t do that. The tree didn’t put itself in this situation. The tree grew where the bird or wind dropped the seed.

The tree never complained to me. The tree simply did what trees do. It took nutrition and water from the ground and energy from the sun. The tree put out its lovely buds. I was happy to see the vibrant pink-red splash on that colorless corner. Like strangers who see each other regularly at the grocery store, the tree and I connected. There are countless other trees along my route, but this is the one with which I developed a relationship. It brought me joy to do so.

When I realized that my enjoyment of this tree would eventually end If I did not act, my pleasure turned to concern. I thought about it daily. I knew the tree needed rescue. “But how?” I wondered. The roadside was busy, and people would see me there digging up a tree that didn’t belong to me. Did it “belong” to anyone? The roadside easement is under control of the City, but the City would eventually send someone to cut it down. Why would the City care if I saved them the trouble? The owner of the land on the other side of the easement (a large empty wooded lot which I’m sorry to say has just been put up for sale), is not likely to care. If my premonition holds true that lot will soon be cleared of all trees and houses erected on every quarter acre.

Digging it up would harm no one. Moving it to my own yard where it would have the company of a dozen other red buds would harm no one. Then, I recalled that there was not a single red bud tree on the four undeveloped acres of family land I own. Probably the only four acres in the state without at least one red bud. This red bud needed a place and my place needed a red bud. The plan was coming together.

Friday on my way home in a heavy rain, as I stopped at the intersection, I told the tree I was coming for it. The rain would make the ground soft, and the transplantation would be easier. The tree neither jumped for joy nor questioned my judgment. It just stood there with its few remaining late April flowers giving way to shiny new leaves.

But why this tree? On the surface it is just an ordinary Eastern red bud, but I had a relationship with the tree. A similar thing happens with parents. Their child is no better than the other children (and may, in fact be a real brat), but if the boat capsizes or the school is under siege, that parent is going to save their kid over all the others. Why? Because of the simple fact of relationship.

Yesterday, when Charles told me his goal for the day was to make it the “best day it could be” for me, my response was, “Cool, you’re going to need a shovel.” I told him for the first time about the tree. Without hesitation (okay, there may have been some hesitation on his part) we left on our mission.

As I approached the tree, I noticed loose dirt around it. Someone else had tried to dig it up. Someone else had noticed the tree. Someone else had realized the tree would not survive in that space. Someone else had tried to save the tree. I felt validated. But while that someone else gave up on the tree, Charles went to work. The roots were very deep, and one even ran under the concrete from the stop sign. After some effort and looks of curiosity from passersby, the tree was successfully lifted from the earth. Some roots had to be sacrificed, but I am confident that there are plenty there to sustain life for the tree.

We drove to the four acres and Charles dug the hole. We planted the tree just inside the fence but away from power lines. Today we went back and took it some water. I’ll return every few days with water. It is spring, a cool rainy season for Oklahoma. I am hopeful.

I pulled this tree from a situation in which it was growing but would eventually cause its death. I planted it in richer soil, in a sunny spot away from traffic and stop signs, away from the power lines and inside the fence to protect it from being cut down by the power company or City workers. I have done all I can possibly do for this tree. With a few missing roots, and perhaps a shock to the system that such a move might make, if the tree survives, I will be delighted. If it dies, I will be sad and disappointed, but not surprised because I know the challenge it faces. If the red bud is to survive the transplantation from a bad situation to a better one, it will have to rely on itself to do so. I cannot force it grow and flourish. That part is all up to the tree. After we covered its roots with earth, the tree did not complain about the view or that the higher quality soil did not fill the void in its empty soul caused by being raised in a toxic environment I knew nothing about until it was almost too late. It did not tell me that the type of help I provided to it was neither wanted nor needed. It did not expect me to step away from my own life and provide constant encouragement and support. The tree is grateful for whatever small thing I was able to do, but knows it is ultimately responsible for its own success now. I cannot love this tree enough to make it thrive, it will have to love itself enough for that.

Wait, am I still talking about a tree?

My beloved Charles and his grandson Marcos, watering my redbud.

One comment on “On Relationship…

  • Selina Hopkins , Direct link to comment

    I loved this! It’s applicable to so many situations.

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