Grateful for growth

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buckeye sprouts
(Sara Welch photo)

If you read Eric Keller’s column last week, maybe you got a laugh because he was waiting for a cow that turned out not to be pregnant to produce a calf. I know we laughed in the newsroom.

Incidentally, I experienced the opposite kind of surprise the next day. A couple of buckeyes that I thought might not be viable due to experiencing a bit of neglect in the fall sprouted.

For those of you who don’t know me, I love trees. When I discovered the sprouted buckeyes among a couple of moldy and quite a few yet-to-be-determined outcomes, I was thrilled.

My family thinks I have somewhat of a green thumb when it comes to growing buckeyes. I don’t know if that’s true. I think a lot of times, I’m just lucky.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was lucky enough to find a sprouted buckeye trying to feed squirrels at my grandparents’ farm — and that’s really where this tall tale begins. At that age, I was so attracted to the cute and cuddly and, especially, the cute and cuddly babies. Never mind that buckeyes are not a preferred food of squirrels. I was on a mission, casually, tossing them into the hollows of the maples that lined the front yard.

Eventually, my dad came out to see what my brother and I were doing. I explained about the squirrels and then revealed a couple that had something gross and green breaking through their shiny brown exteriors.

“They’re pooping,” I said.

My dad’s face lit up and he told me they were sprouting, not pooping. Then he told me to go inside and show my grandma so she could help me keep them moist enough to take home and grow a tree.

We got an old butter dish — grandma always had spares in the cupboard for such occasions. Then, we wet some paper towels and snuggled each sprout into its own dish in between them.

My uncle took the smaller sprout and me and my dad took the other.

Things were going well at first. We planted the sprout out next to our swing set where my brother and I could watch it grow. We marked the spot with a small post — I think it was just a stick we found in the yard.

Eventually, it broke through the soil, got leaves and grew to about 6 inches tall. This was the height of my pride for this tiny tree.

Sometimes, I’m also unlucky.

“Do you guys see the buckeye tree?” my mom asked my brother and I. She had just shut off the lawn mower to verify the location of the tiny tree before trimming around it.

We launched ourselves off the swingset and went over to help her look. I wondered how it could have just disappeared. It was 6 inches tall after all.

Then, my brother pointed to the frayed end of a tiny stem and we knew we had found the buckeye tree. I was disappointed but didn’t want to make my mom feel worse.

It was too bad the poor little guy didn’t make it. I never got another shot at starting a buckeye from my grandparents’ farm. The only buckeye tree they had ended up infested with insects and as its health declined so did its buckeye production. I never found another one with a sprout in the spring and, at the time, I didn’t know how to get them to sprout indoors.

As an adult, I purchased my parents their own buckeye tree. It took four or five years to start producing buckeyes and when it did there weren’t many and they were small.

Last year, at 6 or 7 years old, their buckeye tree produced the most buckeyes it’s ever produced. My daughter and I collected 14 to try to start indoors. She took one for herself and diligently took care of it. It’s already a small seedling. I kept the rest.

Somehow my buckeyes survived an extended dry period, sitting on my dresser for over a month before I soaked them. Most of them floated when I soaked them. Then, they made it through a spread of mold that claimed two of them while they were stratifying in the refrigerator.

So far, I have two sprouts and nine more chances. That seems pretty fruitful and pretty lucky given how careless I was in the fall. But sometimes that’s just how things work.

Other times, your mom is her own force of nature on the lawn mower.

As you all prepare for planting, gardening and growing things this spring, I hope you’re grateful when you’re lucky and resilient when you’re unlucky.

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