It was a sparkling October morning in Flory Park along Mill Creek in Lancaster, PA. A beautiful patchwork of fallen leaves drifted on the surface of the lazy stream, as if showing off cherished varieties of local trees.
Near the creek, seventy friends in sturdy boots were leaning on seventy shovels. They had gathered to celebrate Mary Lou Weaver Houser’s birthday. Not by pinning seventy tails on some poor donkey, thank heavens. These friends were going to plant sturdy saplings—seventy of them.
An old Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” Well, today had come, and the trees were ready. Matt, the Watershed Coordinator from the Lancaster county Conservation District had arranged pots of young oaks, poplars, sycamores, dogwoods, buttonbush, and others next to places where earlier plantings had failed to grow.
The beautiful grassy verge of the creek had become susceptible to destructive flood, as development encroached. Far too much fertile county farmland was washing down the creek and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.Trees could help. Trees were carefully selected for how comfortable they were with wet feet and how well their little root hairs would hold onto the soil when the water rose.
But before shovel struck earth, it was time for reflection. We heard Chris Longenecker, Poet Laureate of Lancaster, share tree poems. She looked like a tree herself, hair tousled and blowing like leaves and branches. In fact, her words and the wind were together so powerful that a stately vase of wild flowers behind her crashed to the floor of the pavilion and shattered as she spoke.
Then small teams of friends fanned out along the creek bank. In each designated spot, they planted a new sapling where a dead one had been, carefully slipping a protective sleeve over the baby tree.
Birthday Girl Mary Lou on the left and Poet Laureate Chris on the right, settle a sapling into its new home.
When the trees were all planted, the boots and shovels found their way back up to the picnic pavilion where a feast was spread by The Scarlet Runner caterers.
There may not have brought seventy dishes, who was counting? The profusion of breads, of quinoa salads, of green salads hiding praline pecans, of roast turkey and roast carrots and buttery apple desserts—it was a birthday celebration indeed. Above the clamor of old friends talking and laughing, you could almost hear seventy new trees digging their roots in and beginning to grow.
(thanks to Herb Myers, Amy Houser, Mary Lou Houser and Ted Houser for the photos)
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].