I found and an elm seed on the ground this morning. What I did immediately after that was smiled. Then after I realized the smile on my face, I picked it up and spun in a circle twice, looking for the source. There were giant trees everywhere, in full green – fir and sequoia, maple and alder. But I know this seed. This seed is something I’ve known since I was tiny. We had an elm tree in our backyard where I grew up. It was the biggest tree in the neighborhood. We couldn’t even try to climb it because it was so big around. Every spring it would cover our postage stamp lawn in pale lime-colored circles the size of a dime. We’d throw the piles up like fresh snow after a storm. They’d flutter and float willingly back to the ground.
Then when I was about eleven, Dutch Elm Disease ripped through the neighborhood and all of the big elms came down. They were spray painted with orange, then day by day the cutting crews came through and thinned the neighborhood block by block. The shade trees all but disappeared. A volunteer mulberry grew in it’s place; nothing anyone planted. We picked the sweet berries whenever we were bored, and they squished between our toes when we ran barefoot in the yard. But it’s the elm tree I’ll remember. We’d lay under it to watch cloud animals chase each other above its friendly canopy.
So when I bent and picked up this single seed, I couldn’t believe that I’d found it, and that there was no trace of any others or of the giant who made it. I turned again, looking at the treetops. I thought about writing about this. I thought about another recent elm tree experience. And I thought about the elms seeds I still have in a glass jar. I harvested them right before leaving Minnesota to live in a new city, a new state for the first time. I kept them with me for the seven years I lived in Michigan. Since I was transient to that area for all those years, I never thought about planting them there. I’ve thought about planting them here, and imagine how big they’d be today if I had, the first year we moved into our house. They’d be fifteen years old now and who knows what kind of space they’d command. But instead they still sit in that jar.
I interrupted my workout in the park (maybe I didn’t really want to work out anyway) to take this one seed over to the edge of a field where the tallest cottonwoods were shedding their fluff. I looked at the ground and the false snow that had accumulated, at all the seeds this one elm seed would have to compete with in order to grow. I thought about the hundreds and thousands of seeds each tree gives for the chance to plant just one seedling. When I got to the edge, I grabbed a nearby stick and dug a hole in the hard ground just large enough to hold the seed, dropped it in, and covered it with almost damp soil, then tamped it down. The rest is hope. Maybe that tree will grow. Maybe I’ll finally plant those elm seeds in the jar.
There was a sugar maple in our front yard. I have a jar of those seeds too….