As I walk outside on the sunny days of late, I pause to take notice of the budding trees. They fascinate me. The speed at which their buds pop, emerge to become bitsy leaves, and then flowers that perfume the entire yard – it is a thing of wonder. It’s as if you could park a chair and watch the entire process happen right before your eyes. The invitations are sent out to the bees of the area, and they come in droves to sing to the sweet-smelling crabapples, the Wolf Rivers, and Prickly Ash trees. The buzzing is so strong it sounds like they could lift the tree up and take it to their hive with them. The different shades of leaves color the yard – the deep magenta of the red maple, the light green of her maple cousins, the dark green of the lilac, and the perfect tree green of the apple trees. The variety in leaf sizes and shapes lends them to science-based conversations in the difference of tree species.
    Standing sentry in the yard is my old friend, the monstrous catalpa tree or, as she’s lovingly called, The Bean Tree. The last tree to bud out, she reminds us to be patient, and that it is always worth the wait. This tree has long been the central focus of the yard. There are many memories woven into her bark. The scrapes of bark peeled off from shoes of young bodies shimmying up the trunk to prove their agility and fearlessness to the children on the ground.  She has absorbed tears from sibling fights, collected giggles from games of hide-and-seek, listened to the retelling of Snow White as we plucked her fragrant white flowers and long beans to be part of our reenactments. She has years of secrets kept in her bark, whispered by frustrated children, certain they had the worst parents and siblings ever.
    Her shade beckons picnic lunches on the table, or in the eagle’s nest of the playset. She has witnessed little boys showering her with their newfound potty-training skills. She has welcomed steaming pies and cold ice cream delivered to the table after a long hot morning of work, as the men rest for a moment, thankful for her refreshing shade. She has stood strong through decades of strong summer storms. She has swung toddlers in their swings, been a backdrop for a blanket and books for an afternoon siesta. She is an umbrella of leaves when the raindrops begin to fall on a humid summer day. She’s also a friend to the birds and dogs, with branches offering the ideal perch for hummingbirds to take a break between sips of nectar and a cool spot for pups to nap on the ground at her roots.
    Trees help us mark time. The passing of seasons revolves around the budding of leaves, the act of pollination, the changing of the leaf colors, and for most trees, their stark nakedness against the winter landscape. We use them to note the growth of ages and heights, of ourselves and our children. We have pictures taken with them for all of life’s monumental moments – birthdays, first communions, proms, graduations, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, and births – as life’s cycles continue.
    We plant trees to help us mourn a death and celebrate life and, speaking from experience, sometimes those are one in the same. We give them as wedding gifts, tokens of remembrance, or as we rejoice the beginning of a new stage in our lives. This way, life continues long after we are gone, anchoring a firm connection to the future. I have a lilac tree given in honor of my mom in my yard. I can’t pass by to hang out my laundry without thinking of her and her love of all things green and growing.
    It pains me when I see the arms of an outstretched secret keeper trimmed to nothing but a pole. No way to shelter themselves, or animals, from the wind, rain. My logical side understands that those branches were getting dangerously close to a power line, but my emotional side weeps. I’ve been to known to air my sadness over the cutting of a landmark tree in town to my children; lamenting over the loss of shade to the children that played under it, or the mere sad sight of it as we drive.
    I recently read the wonderful, heartwarming book wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I admit, it makes one think about trees in an even more human manner. Written from the perspective of an oak tree named Red, it gives insight to how a tree may view the things coming and going around them, for hundreds of years. Red has wisdom, and though he should only share it with the animal, he breaks the rule and speaks to two children one night. Lessons of love are taught as you turn the pages: ‘It is a great gift to love who you are.’ ‘Nature is not always pretty, or fair, or kind. But sometimes surprises happen. And Samar, every spring night, reminded me there is beauty in stillness and grace in acceptance.’ Applegate’s words are a terrific read-aloud for any age of child, encouraging us to appreciate the gifts our trees give and find lessons of acceptance within their branches.
    Take a break from the busyness of spring planting. Perhaps pack a picnic lunch, then, instead of making another round with the planter around that island thicket of trees and brush in the middle of the field, stop the tractor and get out. Sit on the ground, listen to the birds that chatter around you, embrace the abundance of life, and listen. Maybe, if you are quiet enough, the tree will tell you tales of another farmer, or another family, that years ago sat in that very same spot. Perhaps they too were praying for a good crop, for a healthy family, for the tree itself to grow fast enough to have the perfect swinging branch. Trees have witnessed it all.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.