Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Rooting of a Family Tree

by Zinta Aistars

In honor of my father’s 81st birthday, July 15, 2008

It’s the predawn hour, when the air is cool and moist, the sky a deep bruise of blue. The very edge of the horizon is a thread of pale gray, the color of hope. I stand on the deck in back of the house in my bare feet, my summer robe in a slow flap against my knees. It is the caress of a morning breeze, bringing in the day. I breathe in the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee from just ground beans, holding the mug in the circle of both hands. It is the smell of hope. The edge of the day is the smell and color of hope.

And my son, a dark silhouette still, moving against the far fence at the end of the yard, is spilling cool hope on the thin sapling of a maple tree. I watch him and think of my father. The two of them, in two different places, space and time, watering thin saplings and seeing a dream of the future. This man I watch as a mother. That man I watched as a little girl, his daughter, learning from the care in his hands, the hope in his eyes, to believe in what we could not see or know.

How did my son learn the same moves? I see him pull the length of the garden hose behind him, hold his thumb over the end with just enough space to produce a fine spray, just as my father had done. The water caught splinters of gray light and spilled it into the soil surrounding the sapling. He set the hose on the ground and touched his hand to the skinny trunk of the new tree, lightly touched the leaves, letting them lie on his open hand, palm to palm. Such care. Where did he learn this? As if he, too, had watched my father when my father was a young man, his back still straight, his hair still black.

My hair tucked behind my ears, I lay on my tummy in the cool grass, peering over the edge of the hole into the belly of the earth. My father’s shovel had sliced into the earth as if it were cake. He set each slice of chocolate earth, iced with a layer of green grass, to one side of the hole, one layer upon the next, until they formed a fan around the edge of the opening. With his hands, he scooped a special soil, rich with nutrients, into the bottom of the opening. My chin rested on my hands, my nose just over the edge, drawing in the good, lush smell of the earth. I watched the moist squiggle of earth worms along the sides, stunned at sudden light. When it was time to plant the tree, my father let me help him lift the bundle of root into the waiting earth, and my heart shivered in a quiet joy. We pressed the earth down around the sapling, my father’s large, warm hands over my small ones.

My son circles the young tree and tips his head to one side, examining it from top to bottom. The thread of light at the horizon has widened to a belt of buttery gold, and it reflects in his face like the caress of another Father. Well done.

It had been years since I had thought of that long ago time, those sweet childhood years, when my father planted tree after tree after tree in our yard. Maples, birches, elms. Rows of fruit trees in pairs: plums, pears, cherries, rewarding us first with tender blossoms, later with sweet fruit. The tiny spruce he had planted to one side of the kitchen window had grown to over a hundred feet, then all come falling into the house in a recent storm. There were many storms. There are many more storms coming. The shifting and shuddering of a worn-out Mother Earth ache in my heart in a sorrow mixed with a loss of hope. How many more buttery dawns are left to our tired and bruised earth? But watching my son now, that tender care, those moves that echo the precise moves of his grandfather, helps me remember the shape of hope and take it back into my heart.
(Watercolor painting by Viestarts Aistars, "Solitude")

1 comment:

  1. Lorena Audra12:28 PM

    Oh that was just wonderful!
    I love the comparison of M to T and the descriptions of gardening. Makes me want to plant my own lush fruit trees. Someday :)