How on earth will you be remembered? After your molecules have dispersed into the next hamster, worm, kite tail or golf cart tire, what will remain? It might be some memories or the impact on people around me, or a series of things I’ve created. Or it might be a favorite tree for some people who knew me. And for people who never knew me, the tree might just be unremarkable. Not even noticed. Perhaps knocked down in a storm, or perhaps hit by lightning.
Still, trees can be very old. If you scour the internet and even if you ignore sources like the Daily Mail, you’ll find information about trees that are thought to be over 4000 and even 5000 years old. Given that this blog post is written in 2014 with not much thought to the fact that it is stored on a few spinning discs by magnets for a ridiculously low cast and thus susceptible to any number of economic, military or biological factors, my blogging legacy might fade in an instant. Just as links in articles I wrote ten years ago are frequently dead now. Even if I were to print off the whole damn thing and stick it in an airtight vault dug into a hillside on the Isle of Man, it may not last long enough to be discovered – just a passing sneeze in the hurricane of time. I’ll probably be dead at some point in the next four decades, and as I believe things, I’ll probably be dead from that point on. Forever.
Monkey Puzzle by Dallas Krentzel
So can I attain immortality through planting a tree? Obviously not. I don’t believe that Yew contain spirits or are magically linked with animals – I think they’re a bunch of tree stuff doing tree things all day. But I do know that some trees live a very long time. The Yew, Sitka Spruce, Noble Fir and Austrian Pine can live over three centuries. They’ll see more change in their single lifetime than nine generations of humans. All I can remember is two generations back. I have reproduced at a later stage in life and if my offspring reproduce in a similar fashion, and I live until I’m 80 years old, I might be a link between my grandparents and my grandchildren – five generations of humans.
I walk sometimes in Bramcote Park – home of some 200 year old trees. My grandparents walked there often, and took me with them and their successive Cocker Spaniels. I see benches with small plaques on their backs and I think that’s nice enough. A convenient reminder to consider mortality and set about my remaining four decades or less with something more than haphazard abandon. The overwhelming feeling I get when I see those memorial plaques is that I should plant a tree.
Why plant a tree? After feeling that I want to plant trees but lacking a reason why, my brain gets into it’s de facto post hoc rationalisation mode. How can I justify something like trying to spend a decade building something when I could just buy a bunch of bricks and labour and have a folly built.
Trees are nice. I couldn’t really put my finger on it in when I lived in other countries that didn’t have ginormous veteran trees until I got back to the forests of my homelands. Trees are nice. They’re very nice. Old trees are the nicest. I’ve never knowingly been in the immediate presence of a tree that was a seed in the time of the Shang Dynasty, but I’ve been around trees from the time of the Ottoman Empire, even before I knew what that was. Trees are comforting and stalwart. They have evolved or at least grown from a time when people in the UK worshiped stones, trees, animals, popes, suburbs and then Apple. Millennia old trees ignored the Swinging Sixties, the Hundred Year War and the Bronze Age, and just did their thing. Grow, swell, and then slowly die from the inside out.
“Only an optimist plants a tree.” they say. If I plant a tree, does that mean I become an optimist? It’s worth a gamble, I reckon. It would be nice to know how the other half live with their glasses half full.
Islam tells it’s punters to “Plant a tree even if it is your last deed.”
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” is apparently a Greek proverb.
There are many reasons to plant a tree. I used to want to build a pyramid or a Taj Mahal so that people would think well of me when I was gone. Now I think I’ll plant some trees.