â€œDad,â€ said my 7-year-old son as we were driving to his soccer game on Saturday, â€œIâ€™m planning to plant a forest.â€
We had been discussing the changing seasons, and how you can tell tree species by their form, bark and seeds as well as their leaves.
Eli said that it was easy to tell birch trees by their white bark even without their leaves â€” â€œThey are deciduous, Dadâ€ â€” and then contrasted them with â€œcarniferousâ€ trees, a delightful malapropism that had me imagining vampire pines (while biting my tongue to keep from laughing). Eli is serious about his knowledge of the natural world, and he pays close attention when we go out walking.
He has been saving seeds from the apples we pick and the acorns we find, planning for the day when he can grow his forest. It will not just have trees, he informs me, but also vines. Like a good naturalist, he is aware that forests have their own vertical structure.
He and I gather wild grapes, process the deep purple juice and make a blue-black jelly that is the very essence of grape. He wants to save some of these seeds as well, but I tell him there will be no shortage of these when it comes time to plant his forest.
Eliâ€™s forest will have many different species, and he plans to harvest fruit from his apples and wood for his fireplace.
He will be vigilant about invasive plants, and he will leave some dead trees for the owls and squirrels to use.
It does not occur to him that he might be able to enjoy his forest sooner if he buys it fully grown. For him, it is all about stewardship, and that is a very active thing, more like gardening than a matter of real estate.
We see the same world with a different sense of time. I, who have known some of lifeâ€™s limitations and lost opportunities, have a job that has me thinking in forest time, but a personal life that is rooted in middle age and a sense of timeâ€™s passing.
He sees the forest that is there in the seed and is not discouraged by the thought that it will be a lifetime before his vision is realized.
â€œEli,â€ I said, careful with his dreams, â€œyou will be an old man when you see your forest grown.â€
â€œThatâ€™s OK, Dad,â€ he replied with the confidence of youth and the wisdom of an old soul. â€œIâ€™ll take pictures of it, and then one day when I get to heaven, Iâ€™ll show it to you.â€
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Associationâ€™s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.