Trees are catalysts for time itself, growing and aging; watching. They are born by the wind and the hope of life, drawing each day in as they release the last, bearing out the seasons in loyal retribution as they decay and resurrect.
I planted mine as a child, maybe four or five years old, deep in the mound that looked more like a mountain back then. The seed was from my mother’s tree, a grand, stout peach she planted when she was a child herself. It was a mark of her arrival, she told me. An anchor to her home.
I picked the peach that grew my tree from hers.
I could see the mound from my bedroom window, facing the east so the grass and sun would wake at the same time as me. I remember racing to the window every morning to see if the pit had sprouted through the soil and relinquished a fully-embellished tree during the night, but every day I was sorely disappointed. I would water the ground early in the morning and sit and watch until my mother would call me in for breakfast.
The expectations of a child are rarely realistic, but that was the joy of it. A ceaseless tide of setbacks followed by another wave of hope. But the cresting of that hope was enough to carry us through our ignorance, so life was effortless. Just as I leaped from bed to realize my tree hadn’t even begun to peek through the dirt, I dreamt of the juice of peaches dripping down my chin and would tremble with giddiness.
Joy is not constant, but it is enduring.
It wasn’t until years later that my tree blossomed. Its branches reached a bit above my head, just enough that it would rain petals down onto me in the slightest breeze.
I didn’t get any fruit that year.
Or the year after that.
The winter following the second year of fruitless flowers my mother died. She had always been sick, but the doctors said it was her head and her thinking that was her illness. They couldn't do anything and I didn’t understand why.
Wasn’t an illness an illness? And there was always medicine to treat a disease, wasn’t there?
Still, her will to live diminished with each year my tree failed to satisfy.
A day or two before she left my father and me, she comforted me as I cried. She told me Mother Nature had no regard for fairness, but if my tree were to bear fruit, it would in time. She said everything has its time and place and that my tree must not yet have reached its own.
She had reached hers.
We buried her ashes in the roots of the mound, beneath the snow and barren branches.
Covered in snow and ice, the tree appeared a skeleton, bleak and crooked. Its bark seemed to darken with each year that passed and in this light, it looked black.
I stopped waking early to see how much it had grown through the night. I hardly glanced sideways through the window as I walked past.
The glass was usually frosted over anyway.
I was gone before the blossoms had time to erupt over the branches that spring.
I was tired of the cold, so I headed south where the sun seemed to shine brighter and the trees never lost their leaves.
Life became motion; cyclical movement.
I got my degree, a job.
I found love and got married and we had a child.
There had never been anything in this world as beautiful as my daughter’s smile, but I began to wonder how lovely the flowers on my tree had become after all that time. I woke in the morning wishing to see it outside my window as I had as a child, itching to count its inches.
The days were becoming hotter and heavier, the wind sticking to my skin, urging me to cooler air. My chest began to ache with homesickness. Thinking of home turned my stomach and made me giddy all at once, leaving me in a mixed state of anticipation.
There always comes a time to return home.
My daughter leaps up, trying to reach the nearest fruit that dangles above her. The tree of my childhood towers over me, casting welcoming shade across the lawn and the grave at its roots.
I pull a branch lower so she can pick the plump peach off, her fingers digging into the soft flesh, trickling juice down her arms. As she eats, I kneel before my mother and whisper a soft prayer into the dirt, loud enough only for the worms to hear.
My daughter kneels next to me, her peach devoured. I wipe a tear from my cheek and pluck the pit from her tiny palm.
“You see this?” I say softly to her. “This is a seed. You can take it home and plant it behind the house and watch it grow up and one day, it will be covered in peaches just like this one.” I pat the trunk of my peach tree and smile.
After years and years of doubting, I could finally enjoy the prize I’d been anticipating since I was little. I find it almost funny how it had grown so big while I wasn’t watching at all. My mother had tended to it well while I was away.
“How long before that?”
“What?” Her question tugs me out of my head.
“How long before my tree grows peaches?”
I smile down at her and say, “you’ll just have to wait and see.”