Green is the Color of Hope

Planting is my antidote for the enervation caused by the grim daily news. Green is the color of rebirth, regeneration and new life. Green is the color of hope. Planting is a restorative act of faith. Yes, I will enjoy what I plant, but so will others. Putting the common good above my immediate convenience makes the world to come better as it also makes me a better person for it.


“Always leave a place better than you found it.” Dad said it often and it was a guiding principle during his long life. It was more than a maxim; it was a spiritual guide to practical living. I first heard it at the age of six when he and I planted pine seedlings on a clay hill. Waseca County in southern Minnesota is not pine country, but he liked pines and that tiny corner of our farm was too small and steep for corn.

We set out one May morning with a space and a  flat of red pine seedlings packed in sphagnum. He jabbed the spade deep into the soil, inserted a pine, spread its roots and sealed the slit with his foot. The process took only  seconds. Then he asked me to do it. Satisfied, he went ahead with the spade and cut more slits. I followed, slipping the seedlings into the ground.

Planting trees became an integral part of the spring. We planted trees on damp days when we couldn’t seed in oats, corn or soybeans. As the years passed, and Dad rented the fields to a neighbor, he concentrated on planting more trees. Trees had permanency. They were beautiful as well as useful.

Clipping - treesAs the neighbors correctly pointed out, he wouldn’t live long enough to harvest the trees. That didn’t matter, he said. Someone in the future, his children or grandchildren or someone else would cut them. Meanwhile, they would add beauty and a habitat for wildlife. The neighbors just shook their heads. Farming was hard enough in 1950 without fooling around with trees that didn’t make money. When Dad died in 2014, the first pines he planted were 65 years old and stood 50 feet tall with seedlings coming up.

Wherever I am, I plant seedings in the spring, just as I did 70 years ago. It’s an impulse that comes when the ground thaws and the air warms. Spring hasn’t happened until I plant something. The number of trees or shrubs planted matters less than the act of adding something new to the world. It’s almost sacramental.

IMG_5027I recently spent a few days opening our cabin north of Lake Superior. Walking the woods, I found half-a-dozen seedlings under the only white pine on my 40 acres. The mother tree is easily 80 feet tall and her seedlings struggle for light and nutrients beneath a thicket of maple saplings. I transplanted two badly-chewed seedlings closer to my cabin where I can nurse them toward maturity. If I survive this pandemic, I may yet see them reach ten or twelve feet. My children and grandchildren may see them reach 50 or 60 feet. By then, they will be shedding cones.

Planting for the future is an antidote to the pandemic’s dark overcast. The nightmarish clouds seem darker as each state and family fumbles forward for a way out. Meanwhile, our president fears defeat in November and abets rabid groups that demand an end to social distancing and equate social restraint with tyranny. The most dangerous ones say that “personal responsibility” is the surest way to stem the pandemic.

If only that were true. Medical experience shows otherwise. Like it or not, we must think and act as one, though it cramps our individualism. Obeying orders to keep distance, restrict movement and limit business requires disciplined responsibility. I haven’t fully  discharged my responsibilities if I simply protect myself from the virus. My responsibility includes actions that protect others from contagion. A lone tree on a plain is vulnerable to the winds but it grows secure in a grove.


Planting is my antidote against the enervation caused by the grim drumbeat of the daily news. Green is the color of rebirth, regeneration and new life. Green is the color of hope. Planting is a restorative act of faith. Yes, I will enjoy what I plant, but so will others. Putting the common good above my immediate convenience makes the world to come a better place and, in the process, makes me a better person for it.

Watching a Calico Cat while eating a bowl of tomato soup

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “An Odd Trio.”

The world of my childhood had two kinds of cats – house cats and barn cats. House belonged to the people who lived in town and pampered them. Our cats lived in the barn and hunted mice that got into the chicken feed. George was the most famous of our barn cats.

The house where I grew up, home of memories.
The house where I grew up, home of memories.

One summer day in the mid 1950s, at the age of 10 or 11, I was eating lunch on ourthree-season porch because it was slightly cooler than the rest of the house. We usually ate together as a family, but today my Mom just fixed a meal of of Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Noon was normally our big meal of the day, every farm wife called it ‘dinner’ but today we had soup and a sandwich because I was going to town for swimming lessons in Lake Elysian. Mom thought a light meal would prevent stomach cramps that caused drownings. I sat on my chair in a swim suit and T-shirt with a beach towel – well, really a bath towel – over the back of my chair. I as ate, I watched our barn cat named George come limping into the yard.

George , a calico cat of tan, white and gray, was missing the lower part of one front foot. I never learned why my parents her George but, beyond this mystery, I do know she was the best mouser on the place. Despite losing her front paw and ankle, perhaps to some kind of steel trap, she had learned to move easily with a rhythmic limp. Even at a distance, I spotted her by her up-down, up-down gait.

George, the three-legged calico cat.
George, the three-legged calico cat.

And, could she catch mice! She was so stealthy I never saw her catch a mouse, so I don’t know how she did it with only the claws of one paw, but many times I saw her trot into the barn carrying a mouse. We had no ‘tom cats’ on the farm but that didn’t prevent George from finding them – or they, her – and getting laid. She was a fine mother and, over a number of years, birthed, fed, and cared from many litters of kittens.

What to do with a litter of barn kittens? Getting rid of them – humanely – is difficult. I know some people who put them in a weighted sack and dropped them off the steel bridge over the LeSueur River. That was cruel and we didn’t do that. We gave them away – most of them. Year in and year out, we tried to keep our feline population to roughly four cats, either females or neutered males.

One of George’s many offspring was a big, black male cat – a tom – whom we neutered. After ‘Tom’ lost his ‘family jewels’ – as we said back then – he was no longer a Tom cat but a Tim-kitty – a pussy. Regardless of this, ‘Tim’ inherited his mother’s gift for mouseing.

The barn where mice ran freely - until George.
The barn where mice ran freely – until George.

Feeding chickens and collecting eggs was my major chore as a boy. I saw Tim-kitty’s prowess one morning when I fed chickens before I got on the school bus. We fed our chickens oats and ground feed from barrels we kept in a small egg room inside the barn. Mice are good are finding their way to food, nothing we did kept them out entirely, and we locked ‘Tim’ inside the egg room as a deterrent each night.

Opening the door one morning, I didn’t see Tim-kitty anywhere. Then I heard a scrabbling sound in one of the nearly empty feed barrels. Looking down, I saw Tim-kitty at the bottom and he seemed perplexed. The cat had a mouse trapped under each foot, and one in his mouth and clearly didn’t know what to do next. In the end, we got rid of the mice. George died a year or two later but I don’t recall the date or circumstances.

Did this really happen? Memories can be so fickle and change abruptly, like Midwestern weather. As years pass, certain memories fossilize into established stories filed under a formidable heading I call “Truth.” Fragments of past experiences, covered with the emotional fingerprints of events, endure because they are useful to me. I use these memories like nails to anchor the past in place so I don’t lose it and my place in it. Unfortunately, my sister doesn’t necessarily remember the same events I do. So, am I nailing my memory, my “truth” to something as plastic a peanut butter?

No. George will live forever in my mind and memories, so will Tim-kitty, along with the fact I learned to swim that summer in Lake Elysian, even if the water was murky and the bottom was spongy. Tomato soup still isn’t one of my favorite soups, and I still don’t own a beach towel, but I can still see George limping along with the tail of a mouse dangling from her jaws.