Last winter was particularly hard on this plum tree and the skeleton frame has had me worried. But I see that she is back to her best, plums coming along everywhere. Maybe she will leaf out and be as lovely as usual.The plush greener leaves in the background are on a neighbor’s tree (unfortunately shading an aspiring elderberry bush).
This tree has been remarkable. It has survived ice storms, fierce winds, and high temperatures, yet each summer produced hundreds of beautiful and delicious plums. Since I don’t know how to can and don’t want to learn, we have eaten the plums, given them away, and invited friends and acquaintances to come unburden the tree. University students passing by our house have plucked low hangers or leapt to pull down a bigger bunch. Once, a young girl from the elementary school across the street climbed up and tossed plums to two waiting friends. I had to warn her that her mother wouldn’t want her climbing a tree–it was dangerous. I offered to give her a bag of plums. She shook her head No, jumped down and they took off, not too hurriedly, eating plums. I used to climb trees. I wouldn’t mind if the girl thought she was stealing plums. She had a personal drive in any case.
Some of my favorite passages in literature are little asides about relationships with trees, like this one in Willa Cather’s My Antonia. “Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons” (21). Actually, it’s not really an aside, since land, and plants, and animals are a vital part of Cather’s fictional and real world. I talk to trees—spirea bushes and other plants, too. I have friends who do the same and I suspect many, many people do. I have saved seeds from an apple tree for so long they must be dead. They’re not useless, though, since they remind me of a person and a time and a tree that used to be in a particular back yard.
After reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben I’m aware of how complex their lives are and how ignorantly I admire and consort with them. They have a social structure–family, friends, defenses, enemies. Feelings. And they communicate, in their own way. That kind of knowledge I can enjoy so much, and appreciate. But the sight and smell and feel of them is easier and more immediate. And fiction weaves them into my social structure. I do wonder if they understand my comments, or absorb the tone, and if they pass on our conversations.