Last month, the Office for Sustainability and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at the university where I work held a celebration. It was to honour the establishment of a small, but mighty, “forest” planted beside the Indigenous Student Centre: a small stand of trees that are in various stages of maturity, reflecting the diversity of trees in our area. As a part of the Canada 150 celebrations, “Tree Canada” provided a grant that funded this project. Part of the news release associated with the event noted that trees are symbols of “growth, strength, sustainability, hope, and peace.”.
I went to the dedication event, which involved some Indigenous prayers and rituals, speeches from Tree Canada and the relevant offices. Pictures where taken, food was offered, and at the end of it all, we were invited to go to a tent to choose a tree to take home. I texted my wife with the list of trees on offer, and she suggested that we go with a Bur Oak. So, I went and grabbed the tree slip, and brought it home at the end of the day. She seemed a little dismayed at seeing it. It was no more than 8 inches tall, but we both agreed that you cannot gainsay the joy of a tree, no matter its size. We sat down in our back yard with a cup of coffee in hand, deciding where it should go.
This is no easy decision. At the event, one of the speakers reminded us that these slips can grow to be huge trees: “Think about where you plant them!” was the watchword. We sized up our yard, imagining that one day, this little fellow would grow to be 15 to 30 metres tall. This would take some time, given the speed at which the Bur Oak grows. It is an interesting task, to hold a tree you the palm of your hand, imaging that one day it could well be the most significant feature in your back yard, likely long after you have passed on the property, and perhaps have passed on – period.
After much deliberation, we finally found a spot, and planted the tree with some wire around it. We have had an unusually active crop of rabbits in the area these days, and they indiscriminately eat everything we put in the ground, so we wanted to be safe. Shortly after our planting, we flew out west for some holidays and time visiting family. Upon returning, one of the first things we did was check on our little oak, but were devastated to discover it had disappeared! The wire was strewn on the ground, and coming up from the ground was nothing.
We lamented this loss, mindful that the ways of nature are not always light and joy. Yet, this too is a part of heavens declaring the glory of God. In the midst of life is death as surely as life is in the midst of death. We didn’t exactly shed tears, but it was a sad moment. In due course, the loss was left aside, and we prepared for a trip to Ireland.
Just yesterday, some weeks after the loss of the oak, I was poking around where it used to be, and was utterly astounded to see poking up through the soil a fresh shoot. I called my wife over, and we are most certain that this is the beginning of an oak. Could it be that the little tree set down a root that is shaking its fist at the rabbits and their indiscriminate foraging? Could it be that a tree truly is a symbol of “growth, strength, sustainability hope, and peace”? This may well be the case. At any rate, we are cheering on our little tree, and imagining our yard in a hundred years or so, with a mighty oak speaking peace to those who set their eyes on it.