The acorn jostled around in the bottom of a knapsack. Scooped up from the dark Illinois prairie soil, the acorn was on its way to the Palouse. Carried by a man with heavy eyes and a pioneering spirit, the small acorn would soon bear witness to hundreds of seasons, gatherings, and coming and goings of family farm life.
Planted in a ground warmer and drier than where it came from, the white oak acorn shouldn’t have had a life after its cross-country expedition. Its planter, however, was a skilled farmer - a farmer that had a dream of a lush landscape that would trim his monochromatic land with towering emerald greens and offer a shady refuge, while also showcasing a little piece of home.
As the acorn rooted deep, deep down in the dark brown soil, it also began to stretch beyond the dirt and could finally take in its surroundings as it breathed the open air. Looking west, it could see a myriad of similar sprouts just barely taller than the wispy grass, grasping for the cloudless sky like a toddler reaches up for his mother. The immature trees mirrored the snaking curve of a dusty lane that was flanked to the north by a rock-filled hillside, and through the middle of it all was a skinny, shallow creek complete with a humble babble. Past the immediate site, it was nothing but wheat. Beautiful, waving, golden wheat that completely enveloped the many rolling hills of the Palouse that seemed to continue out into the horizon, where the reliable sun was just starting to set. This, thought the acorn, this will do.
As the days turned into months and the months rolled into years, the acorn became a thick, lofty oak tree with leaf-filled branches webbing out in all directions. The tree stood proud on the edge of what would be known as the grove, an arboretum-like setting peppered with multiple oak trees.
The young tree loved to watch the people on the land. Strong horses and a handful of eager workers accompanied the determined farmer as he worked the fields and transitioned the farm from a hopeful dream to a living reality. The wife of the farmer could always be seen keeping up with her matronly duties, and their nine children of short stature and bright eyes made simple farm life look like the only life worth living. The sun rose and set each day and there was always work to be done, but there was time for play, too.
Anticipated each summer by the tree and everyone in the entire county was the family’s annual picnic. Hundreds of people traveled by foot, horse, and even car to attend the picnic, dressed in their Sunday best. The tree tried to stand a little taller as the guests milled about the grove, ladies chatting harmoniously in their summer cloche hats, children playing tag amongst the large dark trunks. A long wooden table was set in the middle of the shadiest spot and was quickly crowded with simple sandwiches, crisp salads, refreshing tea and assorted treats. A make-shift stage provided a spot for entertainment, where the hospitable farmer was able to welcome and amuse the mass amount of visitors who were truly happy to be in such large, amiable company. And at the end of each picnic, the neighboring pasture came to life as active men and wiry teenagers played a rousing game of baseball. As the satiated guests left, the tree couldn’t help but rustle its branches with delight as a young boy being packed on his mother’s hip, eyes heavy from the sun-filled day of play, exclaimed, “this was even better than the Fourth of July!”
Years turned into decades, and the tree’s bark grew harder, its branches fuller and its height taller. The farmer was long gone now, but his son had taken over the land. While the steady crops had a predictable cycle now, one thing the new farmer could never accomplish was creating new growth within the grove. Multiple springs passed where the farmer attempted to grow more oak trees as his father had, using different methods of planting, watering schedules, and various locations throughout the grove. Much to his chagrin, the grove stayed the same. It just got older.
The tree continued to watch the passing of seasons and change of farm hands and family. Now, it was the original farmer’s grandson who occupied and worked the land, along with his compassionate wife and six rambunctious children. They built an L-shaped house complete with a slider front door and a yard that was edged with round prickly hedges directly in front of the tree, which made the tree glad. While the grove was still abundant with oak trees and was passed by on a daily basis, the family didn’t spend as much time within the grove itself as in the past. This farmer, too, tried on occasion to create new life within the grove, but to no avail. The gravel lane next to the grove became worn from the many clanging farm trucks and rumbling tractors that roamed the land, not to mention the consistent flow of cars carrying couples and families that came to visit the sociable farm family. Life never slowed down at the century-old farm, so the tree grew on.
Over time, the farmer’s children moved out and on with their adult lives, and the next generation of children would come to visit. The tree knew that these long-anticipated visits were a favorite time of the now grey farmer and his wife’s, and it was a time the tree also cherished. Running about the yard, whizzing by on four-wheelers, trekking up and down the lane in a golf cart with a cloud of dust close behind, the kids would take over the land and it seemed the entire farm awakened with the sparkling sound of dirt-covered children. Standing from afar, the tree didn’t have much interaction with the growing family, but the heart-bursting view was more than enough.
As the tree’s bark began to crack with age, the farm activity and people in it, also began to wither. After some time, the tree noticed that it hadn’t seen the farmer’s wife in a long while. The tree accepted that she had met her Maker and had gone on to join the others who had lived and died on the farm before her. The sorrowful loss was noticeable from the lack of heavenly aromas wafting from the house’s kitchen windows, to the longing look on the farmer’s face as he hobbled out to his car each day. The unwavering tree had become accustomed to loss over the years, but this one was as if a silvery axe chopped straight through its trunk. But still, the tree grew on.
Finally reaching its peak, the old tree wondered what was next to come in its life. The farm was still active and growing and various people still came and gone, but its once lustrous and buzzing atmosphere was hard to find. The tree stood tall and looked out over the fields, proud of its part as the anchor of the grove, a beautiful natural landscape that meant home to so many people. But even the tallest, strongest tree can’t live forever.
One grim day, the tree watched the forlorn farmer be taken away down the weary lane, and somehow it knew the farmer would not return. Days passed, and as the blustery March air whistled through the grove, a branch snapped on the aged tree. The loyal farmer, who never stopped loving his wife or his land, was gone.
The tree was tired. Years of withstanding the everchanging elements and dusty farm haze was starting to take its toll, and the tree’s once strong, straight stalk was beginning to curve, its branches sagging down with age. The tree was ready to recede back into the warm earth, content with more memories and stories than pieces of bark surrounding its wide trunk.
And then one day, a shift in the air occurred. A man walked out from the quaint farmhouse holding a rectangular box, his steps measured and his eyes on the grove. He dug a small hole amongst the impossible white oak trees, opened the box, and delicately poured out a handful of ashes. After refilling the hole with the soft dirt, he solemnly looked over the fresh mound, then closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.
The tree was alert now. It could sense from when the ashes hit the ground that something was shifting in the grove. Something was beginning. Something that hadn’t happened since the first farmer had planted the acorn so long, long ago. Something that each farmer had tried to recreate over the years, but had never been successful.
Out of the ashes grew a new sprout. A new tree. A new life.