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An Occasional Word

Cardboard Boat


Yesterday I wrote without writing. I did actually start to draft a poem. But then I went across town for an appointment. I came back home and planted a few flowers, for spots of color in the yard. I printed out a draft essay and taped it on the wall and looked at it. It needs something. What questions wasn't I asking myself? I painted my front door while listening to Krista Tippett (On Being podcast) interview the poet Jericho Brown. They reminded me of the importance of giving one's entire being to one's work. I listened twice.


Then a man came to look at all of the white oak seedlings that are sprouting in my yard. Last year was a mast year for my white oak. She is about my age and lives in my back yard. There are other white oaks all around—next door, and one in my front yard, too. But the one in the back yard really makes successful acorns. The ground is truly carpeted in new seedlings. I had read in Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees that a mother tree will participate in the "upbringing" of its seedlings, and I was curious to see which seedlings would thrive. I wanted to just watch and see what happened. (He also writes that "it is usually the particularly battered individuals that burst into bloom." The arborist tells me this white oak is fine, but I'm keeping an eye on her.) But the sheer numbers of the seedlings requires some other response.


I started to ask around: does anyone need white oak seedlings? Why yes, said a grower at the farmer's market; white oak is hard to find. Yesterday he came by to take a look. Crazy, he said. You probably have two or three thousand, he said. And he can plant them.


So in the evening I began to dig up seedlings. I dug them out of a flower bed, about 3 feet by 2 feet, in which they were bumping elbows with a bunch of other plants. And then I tackled the border area of another bed, about one foot wide for a curving four feet. I wrapped the baby trees in wet newspaper in bundles of ten. Over 140 seedlings are packed up in buckets, waiting for their new lives in another place. And I have barely begun.


But here's the thing. It takes some doing, to carefully loosen the soil and go deep enough to free the seedlings without damaging their long roots. Each one is unique; each has a different shape, a different set of angles and long reaches. The tip of the root might be an impossibly slender tip, or it might be a small cloud of tiny capillary-like fingers. Many still are attached to the knob of nutrients that is the meat of the acorn. Most have three or four leaves. Some have two stems rising up into the light. Some stems have jutted sideways out of the acorn, then turned 45 degrees to grow up. Lifting each young tree out of its soil, I saw how it found its own route, its individual shape as it sprouted and reached out for light and for water. Each one was miraculous. 


When I finally went to bed, tired, deeply affected, I closed my eyes and saw seedlings. It felt strange to be closed up in a house when outside, a few yards away, there was so much surging, so much life beginning. The house seemed like a little cardboard boat riding on the surface of an earth that is fully alive. What other miracles are out there, just waiting for me to take a closer look?



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