Posted by: highmountainmuse | March 6, 2009

Starting with the trees

An aspen grove in fall color

An aspen grove in fall color

The wind followed us home last night, blowing a fury around the mountain.  Several times last night I awoke with a start to check on the Old Grandfather Tree.  This one, too, is leaning and on it’s way out.  With a clear path in which to fall, we are letting him live out his life to the fullest, and enjoying having the tree there next to us for as long as possible.


Today, the wind has calmed, and the gentle snow softly tickles the branches of Grandfather Tree, and all others throughout the mountain.


And so, my thoughts turn toward the trees… the trees that provided for us to build our home, warm our cabin, fuel our cook stove, give us material for our fence, shade us from the sun, protect us from the wind… these are the trees from our land.  How much I have to be grateful for, not the least of which is admiration of their beauty, now stark and grey and softly dusted with white in the pencil drawn landscape of this winter storm.


One of the requirements of the old homesteaders to prove intention of remaining and caring for the land was to plant trees. Those who live along the river bottoms and find shade under the still thriving giant trees planted a hundred years ago or more, or who wander in the fields and pick the old fruit from the still producing old hardwood tree, or are lucky enough to move to a place loved and cared for enough where a full orchard or windbreak or woodlot has been planted and tended, we are reminded of the importance of trees, and the integral part of trees in the life of the homestead.


There are long since many a homesteads that have been abandoned, the dwelling and outbuildings returned to the ground, skeletal remains of the yards and corrals barely visible, but the trees still remain. Here in Colorado and New Mexico, we have the shade of the big old Cottonwood along the side the creeks and rivers to tell us stories of folks who had once called this place home. In California, I remember apple trees, twisted and gnarly but still producing, in odd far off locations, yet when we look closer, we find evidence of the home that once was there.


For each and all we are thankful for those who came before us, those who had the foresight to share their labors, to care enough about the land, to care enough about the future. And from these lessons, we remember our current obligations.  The trees we plant now are not only for us, for our children, and our children’s children, but for any who come after us.  What a beautiful gift to pass on.  Selfless and thoughtful, full of promise and provision.

The life and death of trees in the forest

The life and death of trees in the forest

For the first 12 or 13 years of Forrest’s life, we planted a tree for his birthday.  No other presents for him from me but a tree. For the first few years of his life, we moved around quite often.  Are there now trees bearing and sharing fruit across this country, in remote little mountain yards, because of this? We can surely hope. In planting the Birthday Tree, we not only enjoyed the dirty/muddy/grubby/fun ritual, but enjoyed knowing we were giving a gift to those who would come after us, and it was not for us to pick and choose, but to share, to give, indiscriminately.


Some may have grown, some may have died, such is the life of a tree.  We can try, we can care and give it the best start, but we can not control nor predict its path in life.


But we do have to try, I remind Forrest.  We do have to plant those trees.  We do have to share our labors with those who will come after us as we have been so blessed to enjoy the shade, the fruit, the beauty, the wood because of those who came before us.


In our constant efforts to improve and care for the land of our guest ranch property, we have planted many a tree, transplanted all we could “relocate” from places we had to put in roads or buildings. Not all have survived, but for those that have taken, we are so pleased to know we gave a second life for a tree otherwise doomed. I tried planting fruit trees, many types, many years.  At nearly 10,000 feet elevation, and with an average of 30 days frost free each summer, I have not been as successful. Lilacs and choke cherry have survived though not prospered. And asparagus, which although not a tree, takes just as long to bear fruit as such and live just as long.  They have done quite well, and I am honored to pass on this gift just as I once received the bounty of others past labor.


So when we look to planning the work to be done at the Little Cabin by the Big River, we start with the trees.  We must. They will take far longer to grow up than the cabin, the barn, the fencing, the corrals.  Why would we wait? Although the earth is still very much tucked in under its blanket of snow, we have placed our order with the USDA Forest Service for our first planting of our native Aspen, Blue Spruce and Engelman Spruce.  We will plant in the spring when the land thaws.  This, we feel, is the first step – for the land, for our home, for new life.



  1. This is such beautiful description. We can’t not live in awe and appreciation of the life of our trees and you express this so poetically here. Thank you.

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