In 1970, my parents bought 110 acres of land, about a quarter marsh land, in what was then a small town, less than an expressway stop on the road between Detroit and Grand Rapids. I don’t know how they found it except I vaguely remember my uncle’s name mentioned. He flew his own plane in those days and he might have taken my dad up to look at the land from the air.
What I remember most about it, after they had two ponds dug, long before they built their new home, was the excitement of them going to the conservation office and picking up a thousand trees. By that time, Jim and I were living in the ramshackle farmhouse with our two children while he went to college on the GI bill post Vietnam. We waited for my parents to return with a semi-truck of pine trees, our sleeve rolled up to help unload.
Instead, they had a bag of scallion sized seedlings. I still remember my mom and dad laughing about it. But they got their spades out and started to dig. Over the years, we watched the trees grow, the gentleness my father used clearing dead leaves away from them each spring so when he cut the walking path through the woods, he wouldn’t mow them down.
After my parents were gone forty years later, the trees towered majestically over their beautiful house. Go here for more about their house.
So when we bought a house sight unseen three years ago, it was with a combination of joy and terror when I discovered it came with a dying avocado grove.
I can’t really explain the feeling I had when I saw it; but it was more worry and anxiety about the trees well-being. I am, after all, my father’s daughter. The irrigation system had been vandalized; every part of it either ripped out, bashed in, cut, so I started to water it with a hose I dragged three hundred feet from the house. Then my wonderful husband found someone to put drip irrigation in so I wouldn’t have to put so much physical effort in to it. The psychic effort, however, was ongoing.
When we left to spend the summer back east, I was worried sick about the grove. Our kind neighbors kept an eye on the house, and we had hired grove sitters who made sure the irrigation was working properly. We returned the following fall to this!
All my effort had paid off; the pruning, the water, the feeding. We still didn’t have any fruit, but the trees looked great. A local grove owner even stopped by the house to compliment us, saying the trees hadn’t looked so good in a long time. But there was one caveat. “They’re old trees,” he said. “They probably won’t bear again.” Ugh.
I was determined. We watered for two more years, this in a time of drought. Let me preface it by saying San Diego County is still issuing swimming pool permits, so watering a grove felt ethical to me.
Reality hit when we returned to California this fall. We passed groves coming home which looked awful, lots of brown leaves and dead branches. The heat of the summer had taken its toll on even the best cared for groves. What would be in store for our grove?
The first thing we did was walk the grove after pulling into the driveway. My heart plunged. Shaking my head, I could see Jim watching me out of the corner of his eye. He put his arm around my shoulders. “Maybe I little more water?” It was clear the farmer had been correct. There wasn’t one fruit on the trees, and they were all half dead. It felt like I was torturing the trees. I thought about my dad, how with everything on their farm; animals and plants alike, if they were suffering, they had to go. And I wasn’t going to watch them die. I would have them removed.
I felt three years of effort was enough. Once I made up my mind, it couldn’t happen fast enough. We found someone local who does tree work. They came out and looked, and three days later, the trees were gone.
The orchard was in front of that power pole. I was worried I’d be upset, but I have to say, it was a relief. Everything living has a cycle.
I read a poem by Robert Frost last night, The Sound of Trees.The last stanzas resonate.
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.