Given that this weekend will mark a dozen years since my bride and I emerged from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor as husband and wife, I've given some thought to reflecting on what has transpired in our lives, our trials and tribulations (whatever a "tribulation" is. Not sure I've ever had one.), our travels and shared experiences, and our growth as two grown people sharing everything that comes along in life.
Then I thought ... naaaaah.
But this morning I was in our front yard, pruning away at a couple of the trees we planted 10 years ago when we moved in to our new-construction house. Much like the day we walked out of St. Andrew's, our move to a new house in 2001 offered a blank slate. So we began the process of planning and planting, envisioning a blossoming future.
We started with sod to cover the vast majority of the quarter-acre lot. This was roughly the equivalent of painting a empty canvas a very nice color. Not a lot of imagination involved, but it kept the topsoil from washing away. The grass was a foundation, allowing us to trod our property without being either dusty or muddy, and it looks a bit different now than 10 years ago. It's just there all the time, seemingly never flourishing or dying. Our kids have crawled, then walked, then played ball, then looked for bugs on it. A little fertilizer, some sun, water and regular mowings keep it a base a solid and comforting as the families from which we came.
Shortly after the birth of our first child, Thing 1, we planted three trees in the back yard: a white birch, a red maple and some kind of oak. I can't remember the oak because it was dead in less than a year. The red maple is towering, easily visible from our family room though it is planted 10 feet below. The white birch cozies up to and skies over the deck. At about 25 feet tall, it will provide shade for us to enjoy al fresco meals in the heat of summer. Like our two children, the trees are remarkable, growing and flourishing in their own unique ways.
A dogwood tree in front was my idea, as my parents were ardent fans of those we saw blooming all over Tennessee during the spring trips of my childhood. It's been a challenge, like my messy side of the bathroom or the spouse's shoes that always seem to be in front of the door. But just when I'm ready to uproot and relocate the annoyance, its scattered blossoms emerge and leaves sprout. Instead of the bare branches that confound me, I choose to enjoy the white flowers and reflect on the Smoky Mountains.
The flowering apple tree next to the dogwood was planted at the request of a neighbor who had one in her yard and needed the cross-pollination. Once a skinny little seedling, it has filled in to be a dominant feature. Its springtime blossoms can be awesome, and some years it even yields a fair number of delicious apples, if the bugs don't get to them first. I can see my wife in it, looking better now than 10 (or 12) years ago, at times radiant with flowers, other times offering protective shade and sustenance. Sometimes, it appears to be going in 12 different directions at once. It's a bit like the tree we planted a decade ago, and in some ways it isn't at all. Nature causes it to grow and change for different times and different seasons. But if you are around our house, you have to take notice of it.
There is a pear tree near the street. Like my friends and hobbies and her friends and hobbies when we got married, it came along with the house. We didn't ask for it, not sure we wanted it, but everyone else got one, too, so there was no refusing it. And what do you know ... it's one of the best parts of the property. It's a wonderful shade tree that sports enormous white flowers in the spring — just as the neighbors' trees do to make a spectacular springtime show. At first a delicate sprout, it can now withstand two tree-climbing boys. Just like sailing and going to Michigan football games, you just don't know what you may grow to enjoy until it gets inextricably dropped in your front yard. It's a friend we felt we've known our whole lives, even though we've only been acquainted for a fraction of the time.
And then there's the pine tree. It was the first Christmas tree we had in our new house, a potted tree that joined the family six months after Thing 1. I don't know if we thought about or understood how this tree would grow through the years, just as we can't envision how the years will affect a marriage, our relationships, and the people around us. And there is good and bad in all of it. While the tree rises some 15 feet above the sod and seems created specifically to sport dozens of yards of colored Christmas lights each winter, some of its branches fawn over a matching pair of burning bushes that thrive despite the horticultural competition a few feet away.
So there I was this morning, head and arms getting scratched up while trying to prune away the intrusive lower limbs. No one told me owning a pine tree could be so painful. And it was raining. At times, I thought it was be easier to just call someone to dig it up and haul it away, but I really just wanted the tree, and the whole yard, to look good. You don't envision such hassle when you pull a 2-foot tall tree from a pot and drop it into a hole coated with peat. But it's nice to watch things take root and make their own place in the world. Considering it was a tree I planted, its my job to make sure it has every chance to grow and thrive, even when it seems like scratchy branches and rain and cold and dull saws and pokey bushes conspire to make you wish your landscape was still plain, flat dirt.
Those saw marks on the pine tree will heal in time. The branches got removed, dragged to a brush pile. A hot shower and a grilled cheese sandwich cleaned my sticky body and filled my growling tummy, respectively.
The rain beats down on the pine tree and the pear tree, the apple tree and the dogwood, the birch and the maple, and all of the surrounding grass. Safe and sound in the house we came in to 10 years ago — and the life we moved in to 12 years ago — all of the plantings around us still make it feel like a beautiful spring day.