Planting the Future

Each spring I plant trees on my land. My Dad taught me. Before he died, after 66 years on his Minnesota farm, he planted at least 150,000 trees. Any patch of prairie ground too small or steep for raising corn and soybeans became a grove of oaks and pines. This is how he taught me about my duty to future generations. 

My first lesson came one April morning when I was about eight. He carried the seedlings – 15 inches high – packed in a box of damp sphagnum moss, and I carried the spade. 

“Watch me,” Dad said, using the spade to open a narrow slit in the sod. “Slip the roots into the hole and spread them out. Use your foot to press the dirt against the roots. Now, you try it,” he said, making another slit. “If pine roots dry out, the seedling will die. So be quick.” 

After I planted a couple trees, he left me with the seedlings and went ahead to make more slits. That was the beginning of our plantings. Those pines are now 64 years old and 40 feet tall. They may grow for another 150 years and reach 100 feet. Dad planted trees for future generations. Now, whenever I plant, I hear his words: “Always leave the world better than you find it.” The lesson has stuck, along with a love of trees. Someday, people I’ll never meet will enjoy my trees.   


When R. Newell Searle isn’t planting trees, he is an advocate for immigrants, teaches English in Oaxaca, Mexico, and writes. He is the author of Saving Quetico-Superior, A Land Set Apart, a dozen articles on the nature and social history of Minnesota, and has just completed a memoir on becoming bilingual at the age of 65.