Isn’t it funny how a tree can produce a lifetime memories. Every year I order seedlings from the Missouri Department of Conservation to plant on the farm and the day we get to plant them is one of my favorite days of the year. Last year I was able to have the whole family involved but this year the ground was still frozen when they arrived so I had to wait a few days to plant them. This meant I would not be able to take the boys with me. It would just be dad, grandpa and myself left to get the work done!
I have a thing for pine trees and evergreens so the majority of the seedlings were loblolly pines and Norway spruce; fast-growing but seedlings nonetheless. It is going to take a lot of years before the pine grove I am working to create will be tall enough to block out the sun as we walk through it. The same can be said for the white oak seedlings. Deer and turkey LOVE white oak acorns but I reckon my boys will be my age or older before these trees are big enough to hang a proper tree stand in them.
As grandpa helped me create a future windbreak with some spruce seedlings on the east side of the cattle pen the realization crept in that he will never get to see the work he is doing come to fruition. At 79 the old man still moves like a cat through the woods but I can tell that time is catching him as it does for all. I don’t think it helped that a few weeks ago, my aunt gave me a large stack of pictures of me when I was a baby up to about age 9; the same age range my boys are now. My boys are the spitting image of me when I was younger and to see all of those people, most now gone, holding and playing with me got me a little choked up. Mainly because I have pictures of relatives and loved ones playing with my kids who are now gone. I call it the changing of the guard but honestly, I have a hard time seeing myself as a leader in the family; a person the younger ones follow and look up to.
“Jeremy, I got old this winter. I don’t know how but I just woke up and felt old” Grandpa said as he dumped a fresh pile of dirt around a seedling I was cradling. My reply was “You planning on checking out anytime soon?” With a chuckle he said “No….I don’t want to go anywhere but you never know when your time is up.” I went back to planting then looked back up and said “You know I still haven’t gotten this all figured out; I need you to stick around a little longer” which garnered another chuckle.
Then still working on that seedling I told him about the stack of pictures and how it left me a little emotional looking at them. “You mean pictures of mom (grandma?)” “It was grandma and others that aren’t here anymore” I replied. “ I saw those pictures of me and can see my boys and I know that soon, many of those who are holding them in these photos will be gone as well.” It was at this point something happened that I still have trouble with around other people. Planting seedlings on the east side of the farm, I teared up.
I kept planting spruce trees and all of a sudden, he started to speak. “It’s gonna happen to all of us son. I suggest you look at those pictures again and look at how happy those folks were in them. Remember the good times, enjoy the time you have now and know that it’s part of life.” I’m not really sure what happened next or what was said, but this conversation was one of those that will produce a life moment. The kind of moment that will be forever burned in my memory and will be pivotal in how I speak to my children and grandchildren about life in the years to come when I am the old man at the end of the shovel.
I still don’t know the species of every oak tree like Grandpa does just by looking at the bark. I can’t fillet a fish as good or skin a deer as fast as he can and there are a whole lot of things I learn from him each and every time we are together. Whether there is still time for me to get the lion’s share of his knowledge or not remains to be seen. My goal right now is to take care of my new seedlings on the farm and give them the best chance to mature into tall, stately trees. It will be on that day, years from now when I can look at the trees I planted on that day and think of him.