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June 1, 2006
Hundreds of seed pods hang from the redbud tree in the front garden. A stiff wind will carry them away, broadcasting them all over town. We are the Typhoid Mary of redbuds: they grow everywhere on our property, their heart-shaped leaves showing up among the roses, beside a tomato. Most of our houseplants have little redbud trees growing alongside them in their pots, volunteers from the compost.

It is our favorite tree. Still, we don't need a thousand more of them. I've taken to grabbing a handful of pods every time I pass the tree. I put them in the large brown bags we set out every Friday at this time of year -- "garden waste," it's called.

Don't think I do this without a pang. Each pod would be a tree, gorgeously lined with plummy-pink buds in spring, putting its forth heart-shaped leaves in summer, turning golden in the fall. But it is not to be, not for however thousands I manage to purge on my many trips down the walk.

But it is only a pang. The seeding process of any tree is larger than the person standing next to it, reaching a ruthless hand up into its branches. Failure is built into the reproductive life of trees, as it is built into the reproductive lives of people: not every attempt produces offspring. Birds break into some of the pods and eat their contents. Some fall to the ground but don't grow. Some become "garden waste." By no means am I managing this tree -- I am just one of many factors in its life. God runs all this -- I am simply part of the tree's natural system of birth control.

Most human activity has more than two possible outcomes. Most things we do aren't matters of life or death: they're matters of life or life or life or life or life. We aren't as final an authority as we think we are.

The redbuds who make it live well among us. They get to travel, often: we pot them and give them to anybody who wants one. Can't really deliver out of town, but you're welcome to come by and pick one out.

June 8-10 -- "The Spirit and the Garden" retreat with Barbara Crafton at beautiful Adelynrood in Byfield, Massachusetts, easily reached by public transportation from Boston. The retreat is sponsored by the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross; for information and registration contact For a look at some of the gardens at Adelynrood, visit
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