Usually I sleep in. Sometimes I go for a bike ride, if it's warm enough. Often I write, which makes it just like any other work day.
Not this time.
My neighborhood association had chosen to work with Trees Atlanta, so I headed to the address given, fortified by a cup from the local coffee shop and a few treats I had grabbed at home. In the trunk of the car was my pointed shovel, and there was warmth in my heart.
It was a poor neighborhood, just this side of the new color line of Memorial Drive. Small homes, few trees. We were there to change that.
There was a pile of wood chips and some buckets near a truck, so without a word I started shoveling chips into buckets. After a while a few more people came by to do the same, then a few more. When the crowd thinned I looked up to see a Trees Atlanta volunteer explaining what we needed to do. Some two dozen people surrounded him.
A hole had already been dug, but he explained and demonstrated how big the hole needed to be. He showed how to pry the roots out of the root ball, using a shovel and his hands. He showed how to "score" the hole, so the roots would get a good start. He showed how to arrange the tree so that it would not grow toward the street but along the right of way. He showed what the chips were for, building a little moat around the newly-planted tree, to hold water and nutrients.
And with that we were split into small groups. I joined a couple digging across the street from the demonstration. We hacked and hacked the hard ground, then the other man with me went off for an axe. We hacked some more. Holes were dug all around us, trees were going into the ground, but still we hacked at the unyielding soil.
It was an old friend of mine, redbud. It can be pretty for a few weeks every year. It's short, and we were under a power line. But it has the most noxious root system in creation, and that's what we were faced with. Red-covered little tree trunks all around the ground, which had to be hacked apart with the axe, pried apart with the shovels, and taken clean away, because if you leave anything it will grow back. I know, and my yard knows well, how noxious redbud can be. I call it the red weed.
As we were finally making some headway I decided to see what it was we were planting. Oklahoma Redbud read the tag. I started laughing, and did not stop for several minutes, after which I went back across the street and started filling buckets with wood chips again. By the time my fellow workers (a nice young couple) had finally finished, a crowd had gathered around them. The hole still wasn't quite deep enough, so the Trees Atlanta volunteer in charge hacked at the root ball a little, shortening it. And it went in.
I looked up from my shoveling, and found our volunteer in charge smiling at me. "I need a few more people," he said, noting that some trees had to go into a nearby block, by the road. I put my shovel in the car and drove over.
There I met Susan and, after a few more minutes, a half-dozen more volunteers (including the redbud couple) and our leader, who pulled some buckets out from behind a hedge, mostly containing small elms. Susan and I got to work on a new hole.
This time the enemy turned out to be, not redbud, but bricks. Dozens of bricks, just a few inches below the ground. Construction rubble, either from the building of the house behind us or some small wall, gone long ago. It's an old neighborhood.
Here a brick, there a brick, every shovel a brick brick. We hacked and pulled, dug and hacked. I was approaching exhaustion, and the hour was approaching noon, when we finally had a deep enough hole for our second little tree. It went in, but I lacked the energy to pull all the dirt in on top of it, and settled for grabbing handfuls of it and tossing it toward the hole, until I could grab no more.
I drove back to our original location and found our leader, now hauling a tank filled with water recovered from rain barrels. The tank car was filled with teens, who got out every few feet with buckets and watered in the trees we had planted. White kids, black kids, brown kids. Everyone was happy, especially the leader, who had never seen so many volunteers before.
I told him we had accomplished our mission, he thanked me, and I drove on. A few blocks away there was another neighborhood project, cleaning out a little creek bed, something I had helped with a year ago. A neat pile of several dozen tires stood on one side of the street, and another neat pile of trash (including an old bicycle) was on the other. The creek bed was pristine.
I drove home, exhausted and happy. God bless Dr. King, God bless Atlanta, God bless our new President, all who serve him, and the United States of America.
God bless you, too.