Growing Living Reflecting

Planting as resistance

I went tree shopping today.

We live on half an acre, in a former suburb. The house was outside the city limits when my neighborhood was built, but it would be annexed just five years later while the Korean War was smoldering.

It was nearly a blank slate when we bought it nearly three years ago, with a beautiful southern magnolia in the front yard and seven pine trees scattered around the lot and not much else. It was a great house with good bones, not looking its seventy years. It had been a church parsonage for its whole life before we bought it, which meant it had been cared for but never loved. We decided to love it.

Along came the pandemic, and then we endured hell as foster parents (not from the kids – from the system) and then my Dad died from COVID and then we had a damn insurrection in Washington and through it all, the old house began to love us back.

It’s easy to anthropomorphize things like a house. Heck, I just did it in that last paragraph. But it did seem like the house was happier being cared for, like it liked having the perennial bed planted in the front yard, liked the new deck we put up after cutting down the overgrown wisteria crawling all over the back patio. It’s like it knew we were looking out for it when we fixed the leak in the roof and replaced the sewer pipes.

But it isn’t just because we love the house.

One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler—the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers… Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.” – Leonard Wolf, in Downhill All The Way: An Autobiography of the Years 1919-1939

So I went tree shopping today. I’m currently looking for a particular crab apple tree, one that has edible fruit and long blooms and is disease resistant and can put up with our severe summer humidity. I love crab apples – I planted three at our last house – but here I am going to try growing apples as well, and I need the crab for a pollinator, in addition to its being beautiful and a gift to the wildlife.

By next spring, we will have 2 apple trees, a crab apple, six plum trees, a peach, two figs, 10 blueberry bushes, four blackberries and two muscadine vines. The apples and crab will go in this fall, and the peach is currently sitting in the driveway waiting for me to plant it.

It’s not just the fruit. It’s that planting things that will endure are acts of resistance to a world gone mad. It’s a form of resistance against all the forces that try to harm us, that try to drag us down, that try to dehumanize us.

Growing fruit is a long-term commitment to a place. We will have figs and blueberries next year, but it will be at least 3 years before we have peaches, and perhaps five before we have apples. But they will feed people long after current politicians are long- dead, they provide us nourishment and flowers and pollen for the bees and food for the birds and perhaps most off all, they are our vote for a future that looks very different than the present.

They are living, growing monuments to hope, to the future, to a world that will long outlast the one we have now. They let me remember who I am and what I hope for in the midst of a world gone mad.And while I don’t think you have to plant trees – maybe you plant iris instead, or flowers, or raise children – I’m all in favor of planting something.

Do you have practices that sustain you in the midst of all this? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

Photo by Jacob Farrar on Unsplash

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  • Deborah Matthews
    September 17, 2021 at 11:31 am

    You almost make me want to own a house again! You speak so lovingly about your house, yard, and work you out into it. I’m not sure I’m physically capable to take care of a garden even a tiny one, so I might just have to love ones from afar.

    • Hugh
      September 17, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      Maybe some house plants? Or start with one – like a jade plant or a pothos?

      In the movie The Professional, the hitman has a potted plant – just one – that he lovingly cares for and it is to my mind the highpoint of the whole film.