When my grandfather died in 2012, I remember the aftermath of returning to his home and feeling the loss. The loneliness of not seeing him stand near the kitchen island frying his eggs in deep yellow olive oil, dressed in his tractor clothes that he’d worn the day before. Him digging around his property, moving dirt simply for the sake of moving dirt, then sitting in his brushed velour recliner now faded from the sun. Empty.
Grandpa was a farmer at heart and nothing made him happier than when he was planting a citrus tree. His life had been consistent with rows of plump Ruby Red grapefruit, navels, and sweet tangerines with a ton of seeds. Besides growing fruit, he built his fair share of houses for he and my grandmother during their almost 60 years of marriage; every one of them had fruit trees in the yard. I’m certain they are all still standing.
During the week after his funeral when the family gathered at the last house he’d ever sleep in this side of Heaven, I remember roaming his back yard with its thick grass, fire ants, stickers, and trees. Lots and lots of trees. After all, he was good at growing and harvesting. At the very edge of his property in this neighborhood he developed, there were two different looking trees. One mango, one avocado. I hadn’t considered that he would plant anything other than oranges and grapefruits, but in front of me were these young deep green leaved trees heavy with fruit. At least the avocado one was. The mango was still young and hadn’t produced yet. I picked a few avocados that were too firm to enjoy but I’d be returning home soon and didn’t have time to wait until they ripened. I wondered how the mangoes would taste one day and hoped to get back before the house moved on to someone else who may not let me pick the fruit he planted.
Fast foward eight years to Wyoming where we live now. Wyoming is known for its wide open spaces and when I say that, I really mean it. It’s not like Florida with its palmettos and palms, thick in spaces, a full ecosystem thriving in the dense brush. Nor is it like Nashville, hills replete with dogwoods, maples, oaks and birch. But Wyoming? Unless you’re talking about one of the national parks that are in huge abundance, you’ll find most (not all) parcels of land void of trees. Beautiful wooden houses sit on desolate land without a single shade tree in sight. Oh but the beauty in the vastness of this state that everyone should get to experience just once.
Our home sits on a 40 acre hay field without one tree, except for what the original owner planted around the home. When you drive on the main road, you barely can make out that a house is sitting in the middle of the random puff of trees. There are 30 year old trees on this property–river birches standing at attention, reaching to the sun high above. Evergreens planted in a row, one even housing an owl’s nest, with branches that hold the snow so precisely in winter. At the front of our home, there are two lines of trees that create a covered walkway should you choose to take that route. There are two chokecherry bushes, an apple tree, a rose bush and others I don’t know the names of. He, a gentleman I never met, planted these trees so specifically that I’ve noticed how one blooms in vibrant pink then turns green, only for a different tree to start blooming. I’m never without color in sight, as if watching a well intentioned orchestra in my yard.
However, the first Spring we were here and after the 20 feet of snow melted, everything was brown (except the evergreens of course). The grass, the bare branches of the trees, the bushes low to the ground. I immediately brought the tree specialist over and told him to cut down as many trees as he could. I wanted them gone, at least a good amount of them. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. He calmed me down and responded, “Why don’t I come back later. After you see what happens when these trees wake up. You have a beautiful yard and if I were you, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Four years later, and I am in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. Very often, something pops out of the ground I never planted, as if it waited all this time for me to appreciate it. Poppies, succulents, you name it. I’ve found multiple pieces of petrified wood buried in my flower beds until I wonder if there is treasure deep in the rich soil. And yet, everything that we enjoy was left here by someone else. Much like the mango, avocado and fruit trees my grandfather left behind.
On a breezy day this past April, I walked our property with the dogs. I came across the dead grass that would eventually sprout into green stalks ready to be mowed and baled for some lucky cows. When I stepped into the tree line, I immediately felt a sense of calm and gratitude for the haven someone created.
In my heart, I acknowledged both men with gratitude. I get to experience the work done by their hands, rough to the touch, the dirt beneath their nails. The trees they planted sprout to life every year and gift those around them navels, lemons, and grapefruit bright yellow and red. Tart apples in Autumn, and berries that come to life after rainy season. Two men, one I knew and one I never met, have left me with a great thought to consider.
When I’m gone from this earth, what fruit will I leave behind?
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. Greek Proverb