Planted

In the distance ahead, the meetinghouse where I was married 40 years ago come October. It sits by a busy country road and when the doors and windows are open on a fine morning, the building hums with the sound of passing traffic. But this spot is set back so far from the road that it’s quiet here, except for birds and insects.

This is the spot where I expect what’s left of me when this life is done to rest for eternity, here in close proximity to some I knew before their time came. I didn’t choose the spot; I suppose you could say it chose me, but that’s a long story.

For most of my life I’ve felt uprooted, and I’ve wondered what it might have been like to be raised where my parents and their parents grew up, to be supported by connections that were already in place before I was as much as a thought in their minds. We moved when I was not quite 5, again a year or so later, and again two years after that, and from then on I’ve never been able to shake the feeling of not quite belonging the way other people did, wherever I lived.

I’ve come close now, having lived in this community these 40 years, and yet the security of being truly grounded is still elusive. I’ve grieved its absence, longed for it, and yet I wonder what it will be like to be planted, finally, in one place.

I’ve been reading a book called Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which includes some wonderful reflections on trees and life, including this:

No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor—and to anchor an embryo and forever end its mobile phase, however passive that mobility was. Once the root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope (however feeble) of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous. Indeed, it will face frost, drought, and greedy jaws without any possibility of flight. The tiny rootlet has only one chance to guess what the future years, decades—even centuries—will bring to the patch of soil where it sits. It assesses the light and humidity of the moment, refers to its programming, and quite literally takes the plunge.

Everything is risked in that one moment when the first cells (the “hypocotyl”) advance from the seed coat. The root grows down before the shoot grows up, and so there is no possibility for green tissue to make new food for several days or even weeks. Rooting exhausts the very last reserves of the seed. The gamble is everything, and losing means death. The odds are more than a million to one against success.

But when it wins, it wins big.