The True Meaning of Life

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
~ Nelson Henderson

In my son Xavier's room, I hung a poster I bought years ago when I lived in San Francisco which says "Help Grow Crissy Field." Michael Schwab designed it along with his other iconic posters for Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  Not only is it a beautiful image, it perfectly captures the nurturing care for the world that I hope to teach my son.  Now with spring bursting out all over Seattle, it is time to actually plant a tree in a tradition that I am handing down from my parents.  They planted a tree for each of us four kids in the front yard of the house where I grew up, and where my paternal grandparents lived before us.  "My" tree is a fragrant and lovely White Flowering Crabapple.  I haven't lived in that town in over 20 years, but I still feel connected to that tree.  I always felt special knowing it was planted for me.  I am so excited to plant a tree for Xavier that for months I have been debating between choosing a Yellow Magnolia or a Ginko or perhaps a Maple for his Canadian roots.  Then again, it might have to be a Crabapple just like mine.

Arbor day has just come and gone and I didn't make it to the nursery as planned to get the tree, but his birthday is next week and we'll plant it then. Birthday celebrations have already begun and we also started celebrating Mother’s Day early with a quick visit out to see my mom, my older brother and my sister’s family.  I am an opportunist and believe very strongly in spreading out holiday fun as much as possible.  For example, I married my husband twice in six months and was scheming for a third ceremony aboard a ship, which would have been a blast had the captain been more jazzed about the idea.  When people ask me which anniversary we celebrate, I look at them, blink and say “Why, both.” Anyway, these national holidays are only reminders, when really every day could be Arbor Day somewhere in the world and every day should definitely be a new opportunity to shower adoration on your mother/grandmother/stepmom/mother-in-law/mom-like people (that means you, Xavier).

On the subject of trees and mothers, I heard Wangari Maathai speak at the Seattle Arts and Lecture Series a few years ago and remembered vaguely that my mom had a connection to her.  Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work founding the Green BeltMovement, but before that she studied at Mount St. Scholastica in Kansas in the 1960’s.  She graduated the year before my mother entered as a freshman.  The whole school was very proud of Maathai then and even more so later when she went on to inspire women to plant millions of trees in Africa and around the world. When I asked my mom to tell me what she remembered, she did and then she said "Thanks for asking."

This is my mom in 1966 soon after she was crowned Homecoming Queen at St. Scholastica's brother college St. Benedict – as a sophomore.  She says she won because her outgoing and charming college beau rallied all his friends, but that is just my mom being modest.  Modest like when she laughingly denies the tales her sisters tell of her dancing on tables, modest like when she said winning the high school Snow Queen crown in Highmore, South Dakota was strategically meted out to different local families (even though a few of the five Markley sisters had that honor).  If my mom almost rubbed elbows with Nobel Prize Winners, won popularity contests, let loose at parties….how many other fabulous stories do I not know about her? It is clearly time for a leisurely tea party over Skype to find out more.

I think the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you don't expect to sit ....and then go sit around the saplings and tell stories with your dear ones.

Three book recommendations:

How to Plant a Tree:  A Simple Celebration of Trees and Tree-Planting Ceremonies  This has tree lore and lovely ideas for planting trees to celebrate births, weddings and memorials or simply just because.

And a classic, The Giving Tree.  

"And the boy loved the tree....very much.  And the tree was happy."
~Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree


  1. We planted a Maple for our Mabel (it has a nice ring to it, don't you think?) and the trick we heard was to put a leg bone of a large animal in the hole before you plant the tree. We used an elk femur and the tree survived its first winter!

    I'm so glad that other's have planted trees before my time-I loved living in Seattle for a summer during college and taking a long drive through the deep, dark, green forest somewhere near by. I remember my eyes drinking up all the green and having a very clear moment of recognizing that my interest in my current boyfriend had developed into love and I couldn't wait to tell him. That wonderful man is now my husband of 8 years and I feel like the forest played a special role in our courtship.

    I'm feeling inspired to go tree gazing soon!

  2. You are a lucky woman and should take time to do that! I spent a leisure hour on Sunday tree- gazing at the Moscow Cemetery and enjoyed the view of Moscow Mountain and Paradise Ridge as well as graves dating as far back as 1881