The tree was not some exotic species, not particularly shapely, not terribly old. It bore no scented flowers in spring nor colorful leaves in autumn. The thing that earned that pine a spot in my family’s chronicles was the fact that my Mom brought it home from the nursery in a milk carton. For the first several years of its life with us, I was taller than the sprout. But one year (no one ever made note of the date), it grew taller than me. And it never looked back. Year after year it grew and grew, eventually surpassing most of the other trees in our yard.
I wasn’t thinking about that tree when my son, a mere second grader at the time, brought a pine sprig home from school in honor of Arbor Day. I was considering how I could plant the seedling and teach him a lesson about life and growth and nurturing. Though in the back of my mind I was wondering if in fact it would turn out to be a lesson about death and dying, given the sapling’s appearance. It wasn’t actually planted in anything. The root structure, such as it was, had been wrapped in a damp paper towel, but by the time Tyler got off the bus, the scrap of paper was almost dry and was unceremoniously wrapped around the tiny limbs, crushing them. We stuck it in the yard and hoped for the best.
When we moved from New Jersey to northern Virginia two years later, the tree was alive, but still so small that digging it up, sticking it in a pot, and taking it with us was not a problem. I guess I was already getting attached to that tree because that’s exactly what I did.
Our yard in Virginia? Postage stamp comes to mind. We had some bushes planted roughly in a circle with a little space in the middle so I plunked the tree down there. As the bushes were taller than the tree, it was not visible unless you walked right up to it, but it got some sunlight there and started to grow.
After several years it grew taller and more shapely, while the bushes grew large and unwieldy, so we pulled the bushes out and let the tree stand on its own. Whereas before it had been too small to decorate with Christmas lights (think Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree), it became the centerpiece of our exterior holiday illumination scheme.
The year we had a particularly wet growing season the center stalk sprouted so quickly that there were no side branches around it. My husband proposed lopping the top off to get rid of the bare spot. I insisted that its growth spurt, like that of an ungainly teenager, would work itself out, and that to cut the top would be a detriment in the long run. I prevailed, and you can hardly see the gap anymore.
Now the tree is so large the best we can do at Christmas is throw a string of lights on a tall bamboo pole, hold it up as high as we can, and try to toss them over one of the upper branches of the tree.
I wonder about all the other trees carried home by that blossoming bunch of second graders fourteen years ago.