Putting Down Roots

We lived in that little house for the first six years of our married life.

It was just a rental when we moved in, but after three or four years, we were happy to be able to purchase the two bedroom cottage.  By today’s standards, it was spartan, even a little rustic, but to us it was an estate, our fortress against the world.

Time has changed our standards in housing, but, thanks to those early experiences, I still think of home as a place of refuge, a sanctuary where we can be ourselves and let down our defenses.  We were happy, even as we struggled to make ends meet.

The pride of ownership pushed us to work at keeping up the large lot around the tiny house.  Not too much—just enough to be able to face the neighbors.

It was on one of the periodic workdays that we found the sapling.

Many of you who have done yard work know about volunteer plants.  Frequently, we call them weeds, since the volunteer classification includes dandelions and crabgrass, as well as many other undesirable varieties of plant life.

The reason they call the season spring is that everything springs out of the ground as if to make up for the lost time spent in the dark and cold soil all winter.  It’s a messy process, causing a lot more work than a naturally lazy guy like myself thinks is appropriate.

Regardless, this particular spring day, the Lovely Lady and I were clearing out the fence-row to allow the rose bush there to have some space to spread out.  We noticed a volunteer plant which was a little more substantial than most of the weeds being pulled.

Still, the little maple seedling had little to make it stand out from the multitude that popped through the earth every spring after the helicopters spun off the mature trees by the thousands.  I’ve mowed down more of them than anyone could count and never given them a second thought.

I reached for the loppers to chop  this one off at the ground, but, after a brief discussion with the Lovely Lady, thought better of it.  There was a shovel in the shed nearby, so I headed over and brought it back.  The shovel sliced neatly into the ground in a circle around the sturdy-looking sapling, standing about two feet high.

Freeing the roots from the ground, we looked for a more suitable place for it to grow.  Within a few moments, another hole had been dug through the sod in the middle of the open yard and the little tree was a volunteer no more.

For three more years, we tended to that little maple tree, giving it extra water when the summer droughts came, clearing the vines and grass from around the tiny trunk, being careful not to damage it while mowing.  It grew fairly rapidly and was a graceful (if a bit spindly) ten feet in height before we knew it.  Straight and proud, it seemed to claim that section of the yard as its own, becoming the focal point there.

The volunteer weed had become a tree, providing shade and adding beauty to the property.  But after a few years, our family had grown from just the two of us to an expanding household of four.  We had to find a bigger home, since two bedrooms were no longer adequate.

When we sold the house and moved our little family, I wondered what would happen to the young tree.  Would the new owners see its value?  Or, would they decide that it was an eyesore and chop it down to make way for some other bush or more flashy ornamental tree?  I needn’t have worried.

Numerous times over the next few years, as we passed the house, we were unhappy about what had been done to the house itself, but the tree flourished.  The trunk thickened and grew taller, the branches spread out and the leaves multiplied.  The tree still stands today.

mapleleavesI drove past the old place just last week and looked for my old friend.

There it stands, a mature thirty year old maple, reaching into the sky more than forty feet, covered with the beautiful distinctively shaped leaves, now changing to yellow, soon to be orange and even red.  The leaves will fall, leaving the naked limbs to face the harsh season to come.

But, the winter will pass (quickly, it is to be hoped).  The new season will see it preparing its seed pods, the helicopters, for their characteristic and prolific descent to the ground once more.

Perhaps one of those seed pods has a chance to become a beautiful, stately tree like its sire, thus keeping alive the heritage begun in that line of maples many, many years before we stepped in and aided in the process.

I used to think that our lives are something like a stone thrown across the surface of a lake, skipping over and over again; each point of contact with the water leaving ripples moving outward, some of them even reaching each other and causing more turbulence as the little waves collide.

The problem with that analogy is that the ripples eventually disappear, actually quite soon after the rock has rebounded for its last time, resting on the bottom of the lake.  I’m fairly certain that our lives are not that unimportant; that our passage through this world does not go nearly as unnoticed as that stone, forgotten almost as quickly as its movement is stilled.

The tree analogy now—I believe that’s a little closer to describing what our life and its impact is like.

We grow where we are planted, sometimes springing up in the hedges and fence rows, unnoticed by passersby, but still growing.

Sometimes we are transplanted to have an effect in a different part of the wide world in which we live.  Regardless, we impact our environment, whether the focal point of attention or fading into the scenery.

Throughout different seasons, we perform different functions, but we are always working to bear fruit, to do exactly what we were made for.

After we are gone, it is possible that no one will remember our names or what we looked like.

No matter.

For generations to come, season after season, year after year, the heritage will continue, the bloodlines will survive.  All because we are faithful today, doing what is required of us, be it drudgery or drama, taxing or trouble-free.

Sure and steady, we continue on the path set before us.

There are times when I wonder if it’s worth it.

Life is hard.  It requires discipline.

Sometimes, I watch others having fun and being irresponsible and I want that carefree life, without any obligations.  Then I remember that history won’t stop with me; the heritage I leave behind matters. 

I think I kind of like being planted and having deep roots.

And yeah, I’m pretty sure it is worth it.

I’m the wrong shape to be skipped across a lake anyway.  A hop or two and I’d sink like a . . . Well, you get the picture.




That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
(Psalm 1:3 ~ NIV)

When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.
(Alex Haley~American author~1921-1992)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Putting Down Roots

  1. We just planted two trees in our front yard recently. We took pictures of the kids by them so that someday they can see how little the trees were when we planted them. My mom enjoyed “putting down roots” at our old farm. By the time we all left home, the trees were grown and provided much shade. Did not notice the growth along the way, just seemed like one day they were huge. Kinda the same way with kids. : )

  2. I couldn’t agree more with respect to the kids, Elizabeth. There have been times when it was dismaying to think about it. Then I remember…that’s how it is supposed to work. We all have roots. They just get put down in different ways. By the way, I love the idea of the pictures of the kids beside the newly planted trees.

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