When we first found our property here in New England, we loved the fact that it was surrounded by maple trees. The first autumn, we filled five leaf bags and didn’t even make a dent in the piles. We needed help raking. Now every year we have a 4-hour show: a crew of five people, each with industrial leaf blowers, accompanied by a covered dump truck with an attached giant Hoover. It has an 18-inch tube of a mouth that sucks the leaves into the truck bed. The second year we hired another company to remove some dead trees. The owner told us that our maples are not good ones; they pop up and multiply like rabbits. That fall, we paid more attention to the leaves. They turned a dirty brown/yellow before they fell. While they provide great shade and a thick, natural privacy fence, our maples aren’t the vibrant beauties you think of when you hear the words “fall in New England.”
Last year, eight years later, I decided we needed at least one true New England maple. At our local nursery, I asked for a Gold Sugar Maple. The man cocked his head and said, “Which one do you want?”
He explained that there is a Gold Maple and a Sugar Maple. The Gold Maple leaves turn bright yellow in the fall. The Sugar Maple leaves turn splendid yellow, orange and red. The other major difference is that Gold Maples take ten years to mature, and Sugar Maples take 25 years. Needing a bit of instant gratification, I chose the Gold Maple.
Before planting the new tree, a few spindly maple trees needed to come down. We called our tree removal company, and a man came out to give us an estimate. I pointed to the trees that need to be taken out, and he spray-painted a red “X” on each one. He looked at the root-bound ground and asked, “How are you going to dig a hole big enough for the root ball?”
He offered to dig it with a stump grinder. He had a glint in his eye like a kid with a new toy to try out.
He backed into our drive a few days later with a trailer. On it was a big machine with the words “Vermeer” across the side. That company is headquartered in Pella, Iowa! For years we have driven by it on the way to our friends’ house. I knew it was an equipment company that told me I was on the right road. Now, sitting in my drive was a stump grinder from that very company! Believing that small things point to good karma, I knew planting this tree would be a successful endeavor.
I directed where the tree was to stand and the men maneuvered the grinder into place. The mechanism dropped to the ground and spun wide and deep enough for the root ball. It spit out rocks and broke through tree roots, creating a nest for the new tree’s roots.
The arborist’s face lit up as the machine did the work. That man loves his job! Having a sufficient hole, he and his assistant cut off the gunny sack from around the root and dropped the tree into place. They filled in the dirt, making sure the tree stood up straight.
“Now, you get the hard part of keeping it alive! You see I left a 6-inch deep trench around the tree? Fill it with water twice a day until mid-October.” It was June.
Faithfully, we filled the trench with two gallons of water morning and night. We dug it out when too much dirt washed in after heavy rains.
In the fall, the leaves turned gold and fell, just as a New England maples leaves should. Bill told the snow plow guy not to knock it over when he plowed at 2:00 a.m. Come spring, it budded and new leaves sprung forth. On hot days when the leaves droop a bit, I set up a sprinkler and for an hour let a small arch of water fall on and around the now washed out trench.
When I come home from my daily drives, I park right in front of it and give it the once over. Every time I park. A little check-up. Three or four times a day.
Yesterday afternoon, I pulled in and looked at the tree. And a rather strange thought occurred to me: I want to be that tree. I want a foundation of space carved out for me and a trench with a reservoir of nutrients. For mind, body, and soul. And who but me to tend to all of this? To observe a daily habit of care. To check that I’m not wilting.
I think back to when I was going through breast cancer treatment when my doctor told me that my first priority was myself. Really, that should always be the case – how else do we expect to take care of others if we aren’t taking the very best care of ourselves? Our needs change day to day, week to week. We should check in frequently, making it a habit as natural as brushing our teeth or taking a shower. What we need doesn’t necessarily come knocking at our door. Rather if we purposely think about our needs, then we can be proactive in fulfilling them.
A walk in the woods. Dancing to loud music in the kitchen. Conversations with friends every day. A meal in a restaurant that doesn’t serve chicken fingers and grilled cheese. Sleep. Skyping with Mom and Dad. Drinking more water. Taking a half hour to sit down and eat lunch. Stirring a pot of risotto for a half hour. Gardening.
I’m the only one who knows what I need – **if** I take the time to give myself the same occasional once-over as I do that tree. A certain calm sets in around me when I care for myself as I do for the people – and one Gold Maple – in my life.