When we plant the tree

ON THE OCCASION OF FUTURE TREE PLANTINGS
with reference to “Tree-Planting Day,” Calvin Milton Woodward, 1905

​What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We buy eighty years for the next allee;​
​We look to the past but mostly ahead​;
We often ignore the tree now dead
​Decaying gently in the new entry;
We plant to forget when we plant the tree​.​

​What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We know the resources historically—
We plant a pole, a mast, a winter’s fuel;
A rifle, an ax, more violent tools;
We know the harvests did come to be;
We planted to deploy when we planted the tree.

​What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We’ve read about instrumentality:
We plant for trees to serve our needs;
We perpetuate this, we save their seeds,
Force shape on their neutrality;
We plant an object when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We plant to project authority;
We plant in grids, Cartesian perspectives;
We dominate nature, acculturate spaces;
We educate with due civility;
We plant to contain when we plant the tree.

But come, my friends, it isn’t all bad:
We plant, we’ve said, to give power to plans;
By planting a tree, we’ll do more than deploy—
The shade of a tree we can always enjoy;
We plant for places to move and debate
with raised glasses, for we plant to create.

The terrain is contested, it always will be,
And we start all again when we plant the tree.