A Task Long Overdue

I bought a number of fruit trees, an avocado tree, and a pecan tree in the spring of 2020. It was a way for me to address my frustration with the fact that i couldnt get any food from the grocery store. I was at work when they opened the doors every morning and so the store was cleaned out by the time i was shopping. To bring supplemental protein to my diet i began catching and eating grasshoppers and cicadas and digging up wild onions all over the property. They were tiny but id you found enough of them you could peel them, chop them in half, throw them in the skillet, and it was just like having real sautéed onions. I kept the green stems as well and chopped them up. It added to the onion flavor and was a bright bit of green in the dish. I would collect dandelion leaves to make salad and just generally ate any bug or edible greenery that i could find that i didn’t think spent its whole day crawling through animal feces. I kept the crickets and pill bugs for the chickens, determined that i was not yet desperate enough to eat greasy or poo covered bugs, but i became quite addicted to cicadas and even devised a pretty effective system for catching them. But, i’ve gotten very far off topic here. The trees. What became of them. Well, the avocado tree flowered beautifully in the shed like i’d never seen a tree flower before during the dead of winter and then died a very severe and thorough death in icepocalypse when i didnt have any heat to keep the tropical plant above freezing. The satsuma mandarin tree gave me a number of juicy sweet mandarins ranging somewhere in the teens that were so exquisite, and died thoroughly in icepocalypse. My lemon tree that had been with me for years also died a severe and thorough death during icepocalypse. It was during this time that i realized i needed local plants that would do well to survive winter, not tropical or citrus plants. The mulberry and pear trees rooted well and survived. My pomegranate and fig trees died and came back from the roots after icepocalypse as baby trees. My loquat tree died and my grandmother sprouted me a baby one which i have left alone and let the rain alone water it and it is surviving much better without my interference. My little apple tree from a sprouted seed continues to come back each year even though only an inch and a half tall. Everything was planted in the ground except this pecan tree which came in a 2 foot pot. I knew i would have to dig a hole that was at the very least two feet to accommodate its root system. I had never dug a hole 2 feet into the limestone rock. The deepest i had gone down was maybe a foot and a half. I knew the closer to the surface the more splintered the rock would be. As i went deeper i would hit harder packed less splintered limestone that was solid and harder to chip with a well placed blow from my metal stick. I wasn’t looking forward to digging a 2 foot hole and couldn’t imagine myself doing it after i contracted covid and was left with chronic fatigue, tachycardia, and arthritis in every joint. So i put the task of planting the pecan tree off. It lived in the house for 2 winters and on the porch for two summers. Each year it came back in the spring despite the fact that i had made a very root bound tree live in a pot that was never meant to be a longterm arrangement. So when my spring semester ended i knew the first thing i would need to take care of on my day off was planting this very patient pecan tree who had waited a long time for its day to be released from its plastic prison. I meant to wake up at dawn but it didnt happen. It was 80 degrees and partly cloudy when i started the project and 90 degrees and sunny when i finished. I kept taking breaks to get another cup of ice water and then i would set the cup of ice water on top of a big jar in the grass to keep the ants out of it and take a sip every so often. I put a shirt over my head and then a ball cap over that to keep the sun off my neck and face. I set out to dig this hole knowing full well i could not do it the way i would have two years ago, before covid had hardened my heart muscle so that it no longer contracted as thoroughly with each pump, leaving me prone to tachycardia when my muscles demanded more oxygen and my heart had to work faster to pump the amount of blood required to supply the demand during activity. I knew the chronic fatigue would leave me ready to quit long before the job was done. I decided the way to do this job was one foot in front of the other and i would just have to make up my mind that there was no quit and when i thought i couldn’t do it or i was done for i would just have to rest and get back to it and with this strategy, even if it took me 100 hours, surely at some point the job would be done. It would have to be, if i never quit. So i set about the task. First i put a battery in the lawn mower and mowed a trail from the current path in the orchard to where i wanted to place the pecan tree. Then i mowed a circle around the area i planned to dig. Once i had put the mower back in the shed i began the task of digging. I wore myself out pretty fast with the chronic fatigue. After 6 blows my legs were shaking, i felt like i was going to pee myself with every lift of the metal stick, and i hadn’t the energy to hold on to the stick properly when it made contact with rock. This meant my hands slipped upon impact and very quickly i began to make blisters on my right hand. About twelve blows in i heard an audible pop and looked down and saw that the upper part of my right palm had a big oval of skin that had separated from the deeper layers and filled with water. It was a painful pillow of wrinkly lighter colored skin just sitting atop the rest and i could smoosh the liquid around inside the blister. I knew this would not do. I was barely even started with the project. I would need some protection for this blistered palm were i to continue using it. So i went into the house and fetched some medical tape. I wrapped my hand, got another drink of ice water, placed my cup on the jar in the grass, and returned to the task.

I was so ready to be done with this task for hours, but i had promised this tree that today was the day it would get planted. I tried to focus on the music playing on my phone. I spent the time communicating my frustration in spanish, german, and russian…not a bad idea. It was an opportunity to work on the languages i had tried to learn. I told the rocks they were bad and to get out of the hole and i repeatedly said “please” in various languages as if that would make all the difference in the progress had. The tachycardia slowed me down substantially because i was no longer a person who could just “push through”. I had to pace myself and take rest breaks regularly. Things were going fairly well considering until i hit that depth where the rock won’t chip or splinter easily and is solid. I jammed the metal stick in the hole and was greeted with a “clang” each time but no rock chips. I realized i had to put more elbow grease into it and lift the stick from a higher height to crash down in the hole if i was to make any sort of chip in this solid rock. However, each time i did so i created new blisters on the fingers of my right hand and increased my heart rate. The physical task of chipping this solid rock would be too much for me in the condition i was in. I felt lucky to be in the condition i was in. Colleagues and patients died. I lived. I was not complaining. But i knew this project was now beyond my capabilities and i wasn’t sure how to remedy that. I had made up my mind at the start that no matter what i wouldn’t quit and this was going to be how the project got finished. So i could not quit. So i stood above the hole, going round in a circle, the depth around 1.5 feet at this point, exhausting myself fruitlessly, lifting this stick and bringing it down each time only to hear “clang” and see no rocks chip. I did this for a bit until i became frustrated and started yelling at the heavens in german. I had promised this tree. If it killed me i would put this very patient pecan tree in the ground and i would do that today and i would do that myself. I uttered one “**** you covid.” And decided to push the limits of the tachycardia. It was the only way. This project needed more umph. The rock would never chip at this depth without it. So i began ignoring my heart rate and yelling “come on!” At the rock in the bottom of my hole, giving everything i had with each raise of the metal stick. The rock began to chip. The pieces were shallow and the going was slow but with a bit of angling the stick diagonally i was able to chip off large widths of flat rock pieces at a time. I yelled in german, russian, or spanish in turn with each victory, “yes, very good!” I was multitasking. Dig a hole, plant a tree, do physical therapy conditioning, secure a future food source, learn languages, get the daily dose of vitamin d… i guess i should stop and mention that due to two fires beftween san angelo and fort worth the air quality was poor. The wind had carried the smoke in our direction and it was a bit hazy out. But, the fires were far enough away not to pose a threat so life had to go on at the homestead. At some point i was so exhausted i knew i could not remain standing for very much longer. I was now making one inch chips in the rock and flaking off tiny pieces. The time of my large flat victories was long over and i was settling for crumbs. When i looked in the hole i thought, “for sure that is not deep enough. Then i tried to step one foot in it and could not readily touch the bottom without falling in. I thought, “maybe it is deeper than i think it is.” I decided to fetch the tree to see how much further i would need to dig. I would put the tree in the hole and them gage from there how much deeper i needed to make it. I went to get the tree from the porch and then realized to my dismay that i had used all my energy and couldnt lift it. I dragged the pecan tree across the property for hundreds of feet until i got it where i needed it to be and then lowered it into the hole. It fit! It fit!!!! It fit it fit it fit!!! I began screaming “good!” And then “thank you” in russian while i put my hands on my head and then rang them out in excitement. It fit! I wouldn’t have to dig anymore!

I tried to get the tree out of the pot but it was so root bound i had to cut it out with scissors. I tried carefully not to cut the roots but i accidentally got one. Just one.

I lowered the tree into the hole. The tree had always been crooked…leaning heavily to one side. Now was my chance to fix that if i so chose. I thought that maybe it would appreciate this when it was older and had to hold up heavy limbs. So i angled the part that had been in the pot and poured dirt in this one side of the hole first, causing the tree to stand upright towards the sky. Then i filled in the rest of the hole with the dirt.

As i was filling the hole i was just thinking of all the things i needed to do to finish the project. One step, then another. It was hot and sunny. I hadn’t applied sunscreen. I had been outside for hours. I needed to wrap this up. I filled in the hole completely and stood back in a moment of joy. This was happening. The patient tree was being planted. The hole had been dug. I did it. Thank you lord. спасибо. danke schön. muchas gracias.

One the hole was filled in i stopped and filled a pitcher with well water and carried it to the tree so it could drink, hoping to prevent shock and minimize trauma. Planting is stressful for trees. Any change of conditions or environment is stressful to trees. Being dragged and jostled for hundreds of feet and them turned on its side while cut out of its pot is also traumatic. I went into the house, opened my toolbox, and got the tool i used to cut metal fencing. i went to the roll of metal fencing i had lying in the yard. It had been there so long the grass had grown up through it and was holding it in place. I broke it free with several good tugs to each side and then unrolled it. I measured and cut a piece to surround the tree. Then i dragged it over to the corner of the land where i had planted the pecan tree. I put it around the tree and used the tool to twist the fencing shut where the seams came together. I had devised a system long ago involving rebar to keep the wind from lifting the tree fencing. I threaded the rebar sticks through the fencing and then hammered them into the ground to keep the circular fencing cage in place during high winds. This worked and was a fairly inexpensive solution. I knew i had rebar somewhere, left over from the days when i had incoming cashflow that surpassed my outgoing and could buy things like wood and rebar. I figured it would be where i keep everything im not using at the moment, on the floorboards of the car. I was right. Wrapped in an old tank top were several pieces of rebar on the floorboard of the back seat. I carried them along with my hammer to the site where i’d planted the pecan tree. I threaded each bar through the fencing and hammered it into the ground. I used the last two pieces of rebar in the fencing around the rosemary, something that had also needed done. Then i stood back and took in the scene. It was done. The task was completed. In its entirety. The pecan tree was planted and part of the orchard now. I had placed it at the corner of the property so as not to disturb the soil of the fruit trees. It was a bit orchard adjacent, but, i would visit it daily so it would not be lonely. I was proud of the fact that several trucks that had left in the morning while i was just beginning to dig the hole had returned home in the opposite direction right as i was finishing up the fencing. So, they got to see what the hole was for all in one day. When my neighbors plant crops i get to see what it is that they planted when it comes up. When the equipment is out in the field i get to see the baled harvest later. When fences are redone i get to see what livestock it was for shortly. You get to see what your neighbors are doing without ever having to chat. I like it. Its like good tv.

After all this the temperature was 90 and the air quality wasnt great. I decided the dogs would be better off having a day in the house with me. So i took them inside. I got them water and poured myself a cup of ice water. We all laid on the cool floor and i shared my frozen watermelon with them. I had a bowl of it and i dropped a piece in each of their bowls while they laid on either side of me. We chilled in front of the a/c unit with our ice water and frozen watermelon for a while. They did not mind joining me in the rest. They had been outside all morning and were exhausted from panting in the shade under the trees and drinking nearly all the water i had put out. They were happy to be indoors. We all took a nap on the floor in front of the refrigerator. By the grace of God the scorpions stayed hidden. I was too tired to care.

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