My New Tree Is Taming Me

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Yesterday, Landscape Guy planted a new tree for me.

It’s a bit of a long story.

A decade ago, when I bought this house, there was a giant oak tree in the small, twelve-foot alley between my house and the house directly to my East. The tree was certainly here in the late 1940s/early 1950s when my neighborhood was built to provide homes for the families of recent GIBill grads who were coming to DC to work in the post-WWII government. So kudos to the developers for leaving it intact, even as they built homes on either side of it.

The oak continued to grow, making a home for squirrels and birds, and shading my neighbor’s home from the afternoon sun. Over time, its roots pushed up against our foundations, having nowhere else to go, and its branches spread over our homes, searching for morning and afternoon sun. As time passed, the oak became diseased, and large branches began to die. Climate change brought violent windstorms — dercheroes — to our landbase. I kept looking at the giant branches hanging directly over my bedroom and worrying. Last Autumn, the oak masted, dropping hundred and hundreds of acorns, and I loved every single “pkong” on my roof. But I knew that the oak had to come down.

This spring, after much negotiating over which tree company to use, my neighbor and I reluctantly cut down the ancient oak to protect ourselves and our homes. It wasn’t an easy decision.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have planted any tree in that space, but my neighbor really wanted to replace the afternoon shade that cut down on her energy use on Summer afternoons. We got Landscape Guy out to consult and we figured out a spot that would provide my neighbor with afternoon shade without compromising either of our foundations. Landscape Guy suggested waiting until Autumn, when trees don’t need as much water, to plant the new tree, and my neighbor agreed.

Landscape Guy suggested a Brandwine Maple, largely because its shape is better for the space between two houses and, also, because the purple-red Autumn leaves would work well with the other Autumn colors in our yards. Last week, he went down to North Carolina on a plant-buying trip and came back with “our” new tree.

I worked at home yesterday and ran out to see the new tree when it arrived. I watched as the crew dug a big home for the tree, happy to see that decades of decayed oak leaves had made good, brown dirt, interlaced with our red, Virginia clay.

This morning, after my time on the treadmill, I went out for a few minutes to stand beside the tree in the early morning frost, a mug of tea in my hands and leather slippers between me and the frosty ground. I didn’t do any special magic, just spent a few minutes connecting to the mycellium all around and encouraging them to connect to the in-shock roots of the new tree.

All day, as I played the glass bead game of reading cases and writing a brief, I kept returning to those moments beside the tree, to the small, purplish-red leaves falling from it, to the feel of its shocked roots in the dappled clay.

Tonight, after dinner, I went out to sit on the deck near the tree, underneath the almost-full Beaver Moon. For some reason, I thought of the Little Prince and how his fox induced the prince to tame him. The Little Prince said:

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean –‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”

“It is possible,” said the fox. “On the Earth one sees all sorts of things.”

“Oh, but this is not on the Earth!” said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.

“On another planet?”

“Yes.”

“Are there hunters on that planet?”

“No.”

“Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?”

“No.”

“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox.

But he came back to his idea.

“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

“Please — tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near —

“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“Then it has done you no good at all!”

“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:

“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”

And, so, with this final tree that I expect to get to plant on my Bit of Earth, I am going to be patient, I am going to sit in the grass and look at the tree out of the corner of my eye, I am going to establish rites . . . .

I suspect my tree is doing the same.

Sunday is the Full Moon. I’ll do more dramatic magic then.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

7 responses to “My New Tree Is Taming Me

  1. Ah, The Little Prince!!

    All but forgotten by me as my life progresses toward the final transition. I have two young Grand-daughters who need to be exposed to this magnificent work – and the Holiday of gift-giving is approaching.

    Thank you so much for the reminder.

  2. Ah, The Little Prince. When I was a kid, I thought that it was supposed to be a kid’s book and wondered why it was so strange.

  3. Martin & Chas, It’s a wonderful book, isn’t it?

    I grabbed my copy off of my bookshelf only to remember that, oh, yeah, I bought the French copy back when I was actually fluent in French (a LONG time ago.) I’m buying G/Son a Nook for Xmas and considering which books to load onto it; I think an English translation of The Little Prince goes on it.

    Chas, So many “children’s” books are like that, aren’t they? Why is Johnny Tremain a children’s book? Or, to be more modern, Harry Potter? It’s as if books that appeal to both adults and children must be called “children’s books.”

  4. And — of course — “The Hobbit” and the LOTR series AND “Wind in the Willows” …. and I adore the HP series …. far reaching books and stories …

    Love the story of the tree — I wept when many of the red-tip photinias (including a few of my own) died throughout the whole DFW area …. so many bushes (or trees) withered by some sort of miserable rot and blight … fought it hard and may still lose the remaining ones that created gorgeous privacy and shade in my back garden …..

  5. Books tamed me as a child. Doctor Doolittle. Johnny Tremain. The Trumpeter of Cracow. And especially The Wind in the Willows.

  6. Jan,

    Hope you can save the remaining ones!

    Michael C,
    Wind in the Willows was a great favorite of mine, too.

  7. Wind In The Willows — and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn – Van Morrison

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