Canada is 5000 kilometres across and for the last twenty years 4,500 of those kilometres separated me from my sister’s house. She didn’t always live on the other side of the country. For a time, just after she was married, it was only a 15 minute drive for me to visit her. She had cable and I didn’t, so my visits often coincided with the broadcast of the latest episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Remember, this was an age without DVD’s, downloads or You-tube. If I couldn’t visit that night she would video tape the episodes for me. How great of a sister is that?
Since she had shown me such kindness, it seemed only fair that I should return the favour willingly. When the time came for her to ask one of me it was the middle of winter. She and her husband were escaping the winter storms of February in a place that was far, far away where it felt much less February. Her favour of me was that I visit her home each day and water her plants. I didn’t think that was too difficult, on occasion I can complete simple tasks.
She explained that most of the plants in the house would need to be maybe watered once or twice a week. But it was her special project in the spare bedroom that needed particular attention. The story goes, as far as I remember it, that someone she knew had planted a special tree from overseas, Africa most likely. She had taken some clipping from that tree last Autumn and her plan was to have them take root over the winter. Then once the summer suns had melted our winter snow she would have a number of saplings ready for planting. She had been watering them all winter, every day, and it was important for me to continue doing so while she was away.
Not wanting to miss the final season of ST:TNG I agreed to do this favour for her. The first day I went around and watered all the plants in her living room and kitchen. I spotted some flowers in the study and watered them too. Unfortunately, they turned out to be artificial and water poured through holes in the bottom of the pot all over my brother in law’s fancy desk. I freely admit, I am no botanist.
After wiping up the water in the study I made my way to the spare room. There on the window sill sat a row of eight Styrofoam cups. Each cup was filled with dirt and had a four inch stick, about half the thickness if a pencil, sticking up from the middle. The sticks still had bark on them and could best be described as dead. Plain and simple, they were stupid sticks in the dirt, and my sister expected me to water them each day.
Because I said I would, I did, each day.
This has got to be a practical joke, I thought each time I watered them. I could imagine my sister, in her place of warmth, laughing at the thought of me, in the depths of February, watering eight dead sticks.
She had probably set up the artificial flowers in the study just to mess with my mind too.
I last watered the sticks the day before she returned home and they looked exactly the same as the the day she left, weeks before; dead. There had been no sign of life during my stint as an arborist. I told her I had watered her sticks like she asked and expected her to burst out in laughter and point at me saying, “I got you good!” To my surprise she didn’t laugh but said thanks. She explained she didn’t know if her plan would work but she was hoping to get eight African trees to plant this summer. This was no joke to her. She was serious about this project and continuing they rest of that winter faithfully tended the contents of those eight Styrofoam cups, truly believing she would have trees that summer.
So I did what any big brother would do with his little sister at a time like that, I teased her and laughed, “Trees? Good luck with that! They are just sticks in a cup! You spent all winter watering sticks in a cup!” She gave me that look little sisters give their big brothers who are being annoying. It was also that look which reminded me she really didn’t have to record Star Trek if she didn’t want to. I stopped teasing.
Some months later, in June, my sister planted four of her special trees in the backyard of my parent’s house and made me come out to see them. I looked down at the young saplings nearly a foot tall, amazed that her determination, care, and vision (plus my few weeks of watering) had culminated in these tiny trees with leaves of bright green drinking in the summer sun.
I was proud of my sister that day.
That night, rabbits came out of the woods and ate three of the trees. The fourth tree took root and as far as I know it is still growing behind our old house to this day.
I have since learned there are people in this world with a special gift; to be able to look at a simple object and see a thing of beauty no one else does. They can give that object a purpose that most of us would never imagine. What once was considered useless is given reason. These people may be doubted or made fun of, but they press forward and their vision is rewarded.
These are the people this world needs more of.