Planting Trees I’ll Never Climb

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It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace

— “River,” by Joni Mitchell


 Several mature water oak trees dot the front pasture, which is about three acres of Bahia grass leading to the highway. We set up some outdoor furniture beneath one of the trees. It is my favorite place to read when the weather is nice. Sometimes I nod off on a Sunday afternoon, lulled by the breeze whispering through the branches, the distant sound of traffic. I never sleep for long, maybe 15 minutes, then return to whatever book I am reading.

The water oak under which we placed the lawn furniture has two large ugly gashes at its base, filled with rotted wood. Old timers used to patch those holes with concrete. I searched for answers online. Some folks suggested filling the crater with foam, then painting it to match the tree. Others recommended using wire mesh and plaster. Looks like concrete is no longer a popular method.

Months passed. I did nothing about the tree. Finally, I called the county extension agent, who is always helpful, and asked for advice about that tree. She was about to leave town but said she would pass my message to a fellow who has worked for the Texas A&M Forest Service for decades. I was pleasantly surprised when he called a few hours later and said he could come out in a bit if I was going to be around. I was, and he did.

He walked around the tree, looking up and down, stuck his head inside the gash, then shook his head.

“That tree is dying,” he said. “There is nothing to be done.” He said the rot likely extended up the trunk to where the branches begin, about 15 feet off the ground. Patching the gashes would not help. He said the only good news is that when the tree falls — and it will eventually fall, or at least die and then have to be cut down — is that it almost certainly will fall away from the house. This is a large tree.

“You might want to move your lawn furniture,” he added, and left.

Inertia is my fallback position when it comes to having trees cut down, especially if they don’t pose a danger to our property or anybody else’s. So the tree is still out there. Water oaks shed leaves all year long, which can be annoying except out here I just chop them up with the zero-turn mower. The damaged tree looks to be in the same shape as the others, largely bare. We will see what spring brings.

I haven’t moved the lawn furniture, either. I like that reading spot.


We are planning to have a pond (maybe two) built after the first of the year, to deal with a lot of standing water in the recently cleared acreage behind our house. My brother-in-law suggested planting some cypress areas in the boggy areas. Those beautiful trees suck up water and grow fairly quickly. Sounds like a plan.

When the diseased water oak finally comes down, either at the hand of nature or a crew with chainsaws, I hope to cadge some pieces of lumber from it, perhaps build a couple of Adirondack chairs to place outside. I’ll plant a couple of trees out there, probably live oaks, which grow slowly but live a long time. A song that is on regular rotation on the satellite radio station I often listen to keeps running through me head:


I’ve gathered sunsets in my prime

Now I’m planting trees I’ll never climb

— “See the World,” by Brett Dennen


As we continue to make improvements to this place, planting trees, building nest boxes for owls and ducks, planting food lots for deer, our goal is to leave our piece of land in better condition than we found it, more welcoming to God’s creatures (except the feral hogs), knowing all the while our time here is limited, that we are indeed planting trees we’ll never climb. We will just enjoy what years we have left, grateful for a multitude of blessings.

Merry Christmas, my friends, and God Bless.

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