I think I understand why my mother loves trees. She used to send in donations on Arbor Day and in return receive seedlings that she gave to her children and grandchildren who promptly disposed of them like kindling. She once stood at the window of our farmhouse and cried, watching my father cut down a tree that was dying and dangerously close to falling on the roof. She made me plant several more in front of the same house despite my harsh teenage protests–five birches to replace the grizzled oak that had been lost. I was furious.

I drove by that old farmhouse the other day, now inhabited by oblivious strangers. Thirty-six years later, the trees I planted now tower high above the rooftop. I’m more proud of planting those trees than of anything else I’ve ever accomplished.

She loves trees, I think, because Minnesota, her childhood home, is flat and stark and without landmarks other than distinctive clusters of aspen, hickory, elm, oak, cottonwood, pine, willow, mulberry, box elder, ash, maple, ironwood, and showy rowan around little groupings of farm houses, barns, and silos. Trees are signs of home.