On our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we pick rocks from our freshly disked field. I keep Eloise the tractor at a slow purr while Andrew grabs any rock larger than a sandwich and chunks them into the trailer. Our rough fifteen-acre field adjoins our neighbor’s field, and, thanks to them, the whole area will be a hay field later this summer. We’ve had rocky times before, but this is different, I grin to myself.
It seems right that we are practicing attentiveness to hard things emerging from deep places. Sometimes I hop off the tractor to help. Together, we pry out and lift a toddler-sized rock. A few times, the stones are just too heavy, even for both of us, and we mark them with flags—get help here.
The whole project—this farm, this marriage—has flags all over the place, but not the red flags that shout warning or danger. These are flags in my mind, marking places where special attention has been given or where our community has helped us move the heaviest stones.
There are also flags marking new trees, so tiny that stepping on them by accident is a real possibility. Down beyond the north end of the barn, eventually forming a windbreak, flags march across the damp area between marsh and drier pasture. Flags cascade across one-third acre of previous scrappy thicket in our woods. After shearing the thicket, Andrew has flagged the layout of our future forest. These flags mark our path forward. They create a connect-the-dot image of how our lives here in twenty or thirty years might look.
On this evening two weeks after our anniversary, our kids romp at the edge of this eventual forest. Stella hugs the dog and plays teacher under a pine tree. Sam balances on logs and turns a branch into a blaster. Andrew wiggles the dibble in the dark soil, leaning the narrow spade back and forth to create a space for bare roots.
Most of these trees are smaller than their roots, so we mark each one with hot pink flagging. As we plant them, I tally the kinds and numbers. We—mostly Andrew—will have planted white pine, Norway spruce, tamarack, paper birch, yellow birch, black walnut, red oak, white oak, sycamore, wild black cherry, silky dogwood, nanny berry, and several pears and apples.
“Whoa. That just added up to 518 trees,” I tell Andrew.
“And that’s just phase one!” he says.
We are laughing at the ridiculous scale of our visions and at our good fortune to be here. We are shoving the dibble back into the earth, tucking in the branching roots, closing the soil around some optimism, some big dreams, some tender seedling.