Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — Hope springs eternal: Don’t give up on those dead horses (or ‘dead’ trees)

Have you ever tried to resurrect the dead? Revive a conversation that is over? Revisit a missed opportunity? Harp on a topic that’s been long since put-to-rest? Occasionally, there will be something I just can’t let go, and I find myself beating a dead horse. You can whack the heck out of those things, and nothing ever comes of it. Well, aside from annoyed family members who don’t want to hear any more of it. But never does history rewrite itself.

I ask myself why I do this. Is it a mom thing? A wife thing? Don’t I know that horse isn’t going to jump up and start running?

Earlier this spring, there was a little redbud sapling that volunteered in our yard. It sprouted right in the middle of my herb garden, directly under the power lines that feed our house. It was a nice little tree that took up residence in a bad spot. So I tasked my husband with digging it up for me to replant it in our front yard.

“Be very careful about the roots,” I advised. He dug, and sweated in the heat, and I started feeling sorry for him.

“Well,” I backed off. “They’re strong trees. It might survive a little root damage.”

He continued to dig, finding the root system much larger than we’d suspected. The sun beat down on him, and I worried he’d agitate a recent injury.

Finally, I all but gave up. “Just get it out of there. We’ll try to plant it. If it lives, it lives. If it doesn’t, well … we tried.” He hacked and twisted, and the little tree came out with a pop, roots severed close to the trunk.

He watched me, incredulous, as I took it around to the front yard and planted it.

“You’re planting a dead tree?” he asked. I just shrugged. It was worth a try, right?

I fixed it a nice little bed of peat moss, applied root growth fertilizer, and told it to be brave. Day after day, I watered that little tree. Its leaves turned brown and curled until my daughter decided they were an eyesore and picked them all off, leaving a stick. And I continued watering the stick.

It was a little bit embarrassing for a couple of reasons — first, to have planted a dead tree, and second, to be giving it daily attention. But I reasoned that redbuds are a native tree, resilient and plentiful in the area. Its twigs still had a slight green color to them, and I had no idea what might be going on under the ground. If it would just start building a new root system, it would be a beautiful little addition, providing shade to our home and a branch to hang a bird feeder. It was worth a try.

One morning, I noticed something. Minuscule purple leaves had appeared, then they began to grow. Soon, its branches were covered with heart-shaped green leaves. Everyone was astonished, myself included. I continued watering it, and it has continued to grow over the summer, completely exceeding all of our expectations, including those of our neighbor who admitted he’d thought I was nuts.

I think I know why I beat those dead horses. It’s no secret why when my kids want to give up, I continue to encourage, train, teach and draw focus, pushing on whether they want to hear it or not. I’m not beating, and it’s not a horse at all. What I’m actually doing is watering a dead tree — and with that, comes much hope.