Planting Trees

By Russell Kirk

This spring my man George and I planted more than two thousand saplings upon my infertile ancestral acres. To plant a tree nowadays—particularly an oak or an elm, on badly watered land—is an act of hope and faith.

Edmund Burke, writing at the inception of the revolutions of our age, feared that an epoch was at hand in which men would become as the flies of a summer, generation unable to link with generation. In most of the world, this has come to pass. We moderns live for the evanescent moment, and for our moment in particular.

But when a man in his 40s plants a tree, it is not for himself. By the time that tree is grown, the planter will be lapped in lead or, in our unpoetic time, hermetically sealed in a stainless steel casket in Idle Hours Cemetery. So only a man who remembers his debt to his ancestors is likely to plant for posterity.

Americans are becoming nearly as nomadic as the Bedouin. How many people expect their sons and daughters, let alone their grandchildren, to live in the old family house. In Spain, at the foot of the last arch of the Roman aqueduct of Segovia, stands a medieval mansion in which the same family has dwelt for more than half a millennium. But Spain—as every good little liberal knows—is a reactionary land. Most Americans seem unable to abide the notion of a house with electrical gadgets five years out of date.

So it goes with trees. A few dwarf vaxieties round the house for landscaping, yes. But why bother with oaks and elms when you plan to move out as soon as you get a really good offer from a newcomer?

Yet every year, defying the ways of the hour, I plant more trees. A forlorn remnant of tree-lovers still hopes to win through to better days, when once more men may cherish roots and traditions. Old men there are—I have known some—who, detesting all things likely to endure longer than themselves, endeavor in their last years to chop down any hapless vegetal giant that lies within range of their axes.

But I do not mean to be such an old man. Rather, with John Randolph of Roanoke, I should choose to be buried in the shade of one of my own trees, letting its roots twist themselves cozily round my bones.