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Percy's Blog

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Tennessee Tree



blog-0594923001342238263.jpgTrees. There’s a redwood tree just on the edge of our property. It’s massive. Although I’ve seen it nearly daily for years, I never take the view for granted. A few moments watching the branches sway always soothes, no matter how tumultuous the day. Ever present. That’s a tree, symbolically, to me.


The earliest tree I have a distinct memory of is a Weeping Willow tree that was in the backyard of our home in Virginia. There were branches low enough for me to climb, and the thick wisps of leaves made my perch in the tree feel very secretive. When I was told we were moving, I wanted to take the tree with us. I was 4 years old. We were packing so much – everything! Why couldn’t the moving company move my tree too? It was better than any toy that was being boxed up.


I was assured that our new home would also have trees and so there were. In all the homes we moved to, I found a tree in the yard. When we got to Tennessee, I found several. The back yard was large and abutted a larger pasture; I had my choice of trees in which to play. Several of them were good for climbing. A game I played on the trees got me in about as much trouble as I remember getting in as a kid. My parents had given me a ring. When it was given to me, my parents impressed upon me that the ring was very special and that I was to take very close care of it. My great-grandfather had been a jeweler and the ring had been passed down. It was jewelry made specifically for children, but it was of good quality – real gold and a ruby, my birthstone.


I was six years old. I was not a careful child, but Mom and Dad hadn’t figured that out yet.


I was their first child and my young parents had also not quite figured out that a six year old should not be let out of sight while wearing a family heirloom. So it transpired that one Sunday afternoon I went off to play in the pasture. The game I devised involved seeing how high in a tree I could climb, then dropping something from the tree and climbing down to see if I could find it. I played this game with the ruby ring until finally I dropped it into the dirt and never saw it again. Of course, I compounded the problem by not immediately confessing; it was probably the next Sunday before my parents got the story out of me. Even in the ‘70s my parents rarely resorted to corporal punishment, but that time they did not hold back. I got my butt paddled by both of them. Lesson learned – don’t admit to being stupid, just say the thing you threw into the dirt was accidentally lost!


However, this story is about trees and my favorite Tennessee tree was a maple tree in our back yard. I was fascinated by its leaves and just the whole cycle of the tree through the seasons. I particularly liked the seeds which fell from the maple encased in a wing-like sheath. I would collect these and fling them out and watch them flutter to the ground. In the second grade, we students got some experiential learning by planting a seed in a Dixie cup and watching it grow.


At home, I told my mother I wanted to plant one of my maple seeds. She suggested I start with flowers, that growing a tree would be too difficult. I was adamant. I’d learned how to do this in school. All I needed was a Dixie cup, some soil and a seed. Mom got soil and a paper cup for me; I carefully picked a worthy looking maple seed from the ground and started my project.


To my mother’s amazement, the seed took and a sprout shot up from the paper cup. I tended to it and tended to it and watched my seed grow. It left the Dixie cup for a small ceramic pot and then a larger one and then a larger one and then a pot so big and heavy that only my father could move it around. It was a real tree, right down to its perfect maple leaves.


When I was 10, I was told we were moving to South Carolina. The tree couldn’t come, but that was okay. It was time for it to be planted in the ground. The little maple was old enough to survive on its own. So, with my parents help I found a place for it in the front yard, dug a hole and moved the tree from its pot to the ground. That top picture is me planting the tree. The tree is really small; its leaves are just above my head in the photo. Beyond it is a tree that’s a few years older and was professionally planted when the house was built.


Of course I thought about my tree over the years. I wondered if it survived. I wondered if new owners had kept it in the yard, if new kids who lived in the house would like maple trees as much as I did. In the ‘90s, a friend of mine moved to central Tennessee and I took a road trip from New England down to visit him. Though it was a couple hours out of the way, I knew I couldn’t travel so close to my tree without going to visit. The maple was still there. The bottom picture is from that detour and shows the two trees 19 years later. Like the kid who planted it, the thing’s a bit bent. It’s not perfect, but it survived.


I’ve tried google earth to see if my tree is still there, but I couldn’t quite make out whether it continued to survive or not. There is something growing in that location, but I can’t tell if it’s one tree or two. Amazingly, the huge pasture behind our old house is still there. It hasn’t been developed. I have a number of goals in life, and one of them is to try to make it in to Tennessee every 20 years or so and see my tree, to check whether it continues to survive. Oh, and my mom bragged for years, the way mothers do, about how I grew a tree from a seed. I’d like to see that maple live at least as long as me.

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I think maybe the tree's only bent because it was looking for, and found, its own sunlight, just like the kid that planted it!

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Gorgeous blog. Bent like the kid who planted it - beautiful. You really must see Tree of Life now! I love the thought of little you dropping things from your tree. Reminds me so much of my kid! And I love the thought that you could go on Google Earth and see if things have changed. Amazing world we're in, huh? Imagine if that little kid had been told that such a thing were possible: they would have been amazed. I'm always amazed by the paths your writing takes down. Blog on!

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Thanks for sharing your memories, Percy. I, too, lost a ring that had belonged to my great-grandfather while in high school (in Tennessee, by the way). I had not done anything careless, so I did not receive a spanking. I've often wished I still had the ring.

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What a wonderful story Percy. I well remember paddlings, as well as the huge oaks we had in our yard when i was a kid. I could step upon some of the limbs to start climbing. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece of your past:)

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