I was sixteen, going on twelve and twenty. I was loved by family and friends, and also had my share of teen angst: alone and lost in my own spirit, the way a bird thinks it’s ready to fly long before its wings have reached their feathery span.
That summer I worked at a tree farm near my house in the country. Nothing but miles of yellow and green patchy country fields, tall hay and corn, heat-sleepy cows, and long biking roads surrounded us. In my ‘going on twelve’ moments I made up silly song lyrics with my best friend while budding seedlings row after row after row. In my ‘going on twenty’ moments, I dreamed of years beyond this hot, dry field of young trees: finishing school, teaching, becoming a psychologist, travelling. On hot days, I dreamt of rainstorms and swimming, and frogs singing in small tree-sheltered ponds. On rainy days, I saturated my lungs with the fresh breeze that came swooping with new hope across the soil.
On this particular day that I remember so clearly with all of my senses (damp soil, rainy leaves, warm-golden-wheat-breeze, call of the cardinal and killdeer), I felt grown up for having my own budding knife and whetstone, for sharpening a blade that easily dulled from so much use, for gently cutting a slip into the base of a small seedling, for creating a new blend of tree, something I’d grown up thinking only God could do. At sixteen we were strong and proud, we felt powerful, we were sure we knew ourselves, and we were also very, very unsure.
One day I felt it, a new awareness of the gracefulness of my sharp knife sliding open the green seedling flesh, felt my hand’s precision, felt the birth of something tiny and almost significant. I was going on twelve and twenty, and completely naïve; I was a stranger to myself, and yet so familiar. Living those summers among those trees, the globe maples, the sugar maples, the poplars and oaks, I was becoming a resilient hybrid of the oh-so-many parts of me, the so-many experiences, the world wonderful and also, just plain not. A hybrid: a seedling putting down first roots in the earth on the rainiest of days, becoming sturdy in the wind that nearly tipped me over.
The world around me was growing up too, always more and less than I thought it could be: satisfying, exciting, disorienting, and disappointing.
Martin Luther said, “even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Do we ever really know who we are, or what we can count on? Are we who we have become, or are we just beginning?
Maybe I know more now than I knew then, but I definitely know less some days than ever. And who knows where I will be tomorrow, what kind of hybrid with the world, with my emotions, with my spiritual misunderstandings and creative findings and plain old seeking of more and right and better and hopeful.
I will keep becoming. I will still plant my apple tree. I will wait to see. I will look towards the rain and know I am still being planted.
Photos by Sushobhan Bahai and Maddy Baker.