A Better Soil

I grabbed my loppers.

I cut at its branches.

I cut.

I cut.

I cut.

It was violent.

There’s no other way to say it.

Although diseased.

And, most likely dying.

I was killing this living thing.

This Chionanthus virginicus.

More commonly known as a Fringe Tree.

It is native to Virginia.

I planted one in the front corner of our yard on Pepper Street.

Its springtime blooms of white stringy showy flowers slowed down traffic.

We lived together for eight years.

When we moved to Sunderland Road, saying goodbye was not easy.

So, Chionanthus virginicus was the first tree I planted.

It grew.

Sort of.

Its flowers bloomed.

But not brilliantly.

“What’s going on with that tree?” Kyra would ask.

“It’s all right” I’d reply.

But, it wasn’t all right.

And, I knew it.

I’d go out to gently rub its leaves between my thumb and index finger and ask “How are you?”

I’d get down on my knees to inspect its bark and ask “What’s going on?”

There was no answer, of course.

Well, at least one that I could hear.

Or, more accurately stated, one that I could hear at this stage in my existential evolutionary development.

Then a couple of years ago, its leaves started browning early, falling early.

If you’re like me and look to the trees to keep seasonal time, you’d be justified in thinking that it was time for Halloween even though it was early August.

So, this past fall, after five years of watching it struggle, we decided to take it down.

Apologizing along the way, I grabbed my spade, pierced its root system and cut a circle around the base of its trunk.

Apologizing for what I was about to do, I thrust the blade of my shovel deep underneath its root ball with the heel of my boot, yanked the handle back and separated it from the planet.


Too, easily.

I picked it up by its trunk, set it into the wheel barrel, and started rolling it to the back corner of the yard where I would let it dry out, burn it in a bonfire, and return its ashes to the ecosystem.

We made our way through my gardens – the thriving ecosystem of of living beings that I’ve been nurturing for five years.

Me, and the plants, and the trees.

We are a family.

That’s how I think of us.

Whenever I plant a new plant into my tiny patch of the planet, I say “Welcome Home”.

I imagine them unfurling their roots.

Reaching out to the others.

The others reaching out to them.

Mingling their roots.

Beginning their subterranean dialogue.

Reassuring the newest member of our family with “He’s not a Master Gardener or anything like that but he’s good to us.”

The plants and the trees trust me.

At least I would like to think they do.

And, they grow.

Not for me.

But, for themselves.

And, as I looked at the living being rocking back and forth in the wheel barrel.

Its blunted branches hitting one side of the barrel and then another.

Soil dropping off its exposed roots.



Stripped of its outwardly magnificence.

And, sitting alone in drum of steel.

I was unbearably informed that I was giving up on a living member of our family.

I was breaking trust.

So, I changed the plan.

Behind the shed, I keep a pile of soil.

It’s good soil.

Really good soil.

Home-made soil.

Cool as a Kentucky cave on a hot summer day, dark, crumbly, worm-filled soil.

Deep, nurturing, curl up on your grandma’s loving lap soil.

Maybe, that’s what it needed.

A better soil.

So, I dug a hole, lowered in the Fringe tree, covered its roots, and patted it down.

It wintered there.

I checked in on it each time I turned over the compost, chopped wood, and stored rocks.

March rolled into April and nothing changed.

But, then a couple weeks ago, purple nubs emerged from its bark!

Those nubs grew into stems.

Those stems are now bursting with leaves.

I have no idea if it is fully healed.

I’ll have to wait.

But, damn.

Good soil.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn