I learned much later, after my brother had taken over the family dairy farm, that my dad called the solitary white oak in the middle of the field near the creek – the lunch tree.
Before I became a teenager and felt confined by the social isolation of the farm and that somehow, it was keeping me from participating in the wide world outside, this landscape was my world, as it was for my dad. But while I played in the hedgerows between fields, discovering exotic-appearing troves of remnant wild flowers, and adventured down the lane next to the woods until that exciting moment when house was-out of-sight, my dad was sowing crops for the cows – corn or alfalfa hay – in the broad fields.
Someone chose to retain that solitary oak tree long before my dad farmed the land. It became the place where, at high noon in its shade, he would take a break from field work, and we would eat our sandwiches and sip water from the red-and-white insulated cooler jug.
Now I live in the city where I find stimulation, and where I work as an artist in a neighborhood that is leafy and green and more wooded than the place where I grew up. When my siblings, nieces and nephews from the farm visit, they are amazed by all of the trees. Such diversity; lining my street are maples, swamp white oaks, river birches, hackberries, and even a few elms, which neighbors up and down our block chip in to inoculate against Dutch elm disease every few years so that we may retain their majestic canopy.
The trees along my street are here because of decisions made by humans to plant and care for them. The lunch tree was retained by someone clearing land for farming over one-hundred years ago. They are all chosen trees, and exist because of simple and complex human needs –for the shade, beauty, civility, and the connection to nature they provide – and because of human care.