Author: Phoebe Wagner
The saplings haven’t grown. This is expected.
We are prepped on day one—you will not see progress. Expect none. For this reason, the deployments are for three years. The generational weight was too much for the initial ten-year rotations.
We brag and boast—we could do it, plant the tiny green bursts for weeks, months, years, a decade. We know we don’t plant for our children or grandchildren. We plant for the millennia—and the next.
We walk the dusty loam in deerhide slippers, heavy skin bags slung across out shoulders, hefting found metal tools, fire-hardened wooden shovels, and spades.
The first month, we ache with the weight of roots.
Now, our moods lightning with the saplings bags until a starscape of green stretches behind.
Sometimes, we unearth a stump. According to the elders, the sequoias were some of the last to be harvested, but when whole cities died of the cold, when no materials remained to build storm shelters, when another hurricane was swirling inland—they came for majesty.
People died for the trees. Chained themselves, defended with guns, committed mass suicide. The trees became gods to some, ghosts to others, and survival for many.
We’ve never seen a live one, just the stumps unearthed from the loam and dust the roots once held in place.
The stumps were hacked to spindles. Sometimes, a hallowed, blackened center speaks to final fires in the California winters that never should have grown so cold.
The stumps tell a story of time. As we shed our bags and scoop away the dirt, it is a broken map appearing between our fingers. A maze of promises past—of breath and shade and all that shade breeds, of moss and leaves turning to hummus and leaves eaten from stems by insects now lost.
Each ring is a word in a poem, and as we shoulder our bags, as we scoop holes and ease in the saplings’ roots, we record the first line.