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Money Does Grow On Trees

Money does grow on trees. I’ve seen trees sprout coins, bills, and even decentralized digital currency or at least the equivalent.

When we were young kids, my family loved spending weekends at my Nanny & Papa’s house that was tucked in the Sierra Madre mountains in Arcadia, California. Their small plot was thick with fruit trees like orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon, kumquat, peach, and fig. In the middle of the overly pampered dichondra “lawn”, there was an olive tree who figured prominently in our lives.

She was the backdrop for almost every family photograph, including first-day-of-school photos when my sister and I were dressed in our most colorfully uncomfortable outfits of the year. She shaded the lawn, parts of the patio, and filtered the sun for the seasonal vegetables growing under her canopy. She stood as witness just beyond the dining room window where we had all our meals and impassioned discussions. She was family.

We climbed on her, swung from her limbs, and harvested her olives every fall. For many years, my grandfather paid us 1¢ for each fallen silvery green leaf we picked off the dichondra, not because it was damaging to the lawn, but because it was unsightly. This saved him the tedious and backbreaking beautification task so he could care for all the other plants in the yard.

An empty Folgers coffee can in our hand, my sister and I would tippy toe barefoot across the lawn in search of leaves. We were definitely motivated by money, which was literally falling off the tree, but there were other gifts. We came to know every square inch of that yard from roots to sky and felt a true sense of belonging that inspired imaginative play and a lifelong connection.

My grandparents are no longer alive, and my mom has long since sold their house, but there are plenty of photos with us hamming it up in front of the tree to remind me of how it was. Still, my curiosity got the best of me so I Google Earthed the property to find, with great relief, that she is still standing. She is knobby and gnarled and pruned like a poodle, but just as beautiful as I remember her.

Google Earth or not, there is something everlasting about her presence that I carry and which ultimately inspired this essay. Thanks to the work of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, we now know that tree roots communicate with other plants and fungi to form an underground community. Is it also possible that the Olive tree is still communicating with me now? Can her roots, via the intricate web of countless other trees, reach the roots of the Strawberry Madrone, Scrub Oak, Lawson’s Cypress and Scots Pine in my own yard, 100 miles away? I'd like to think so.

The olive tree is a symbol of peace and friendship…and money. My Papa understood that Nature was the best teacher. He’d learned from his parents and they from theirs and it was time for him to pass it down to his grandchildren. But, he was also a modern man and took pride in his yard. Yes he coaxed us with cash, but it was a win-win: my sister and I would be under the direct tutelage of the Olive tree, learning her wisdom, and he’d have the best lawn in town, which in the 1970’s was a big deal.

Money does grow on trees. I saved all the pennies that I earned and used them, just yesterday, to buy seeds for the garden.

What tree story are you remembering? Let me know, I’d love to hear it.

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