Carbon Correction

“Make sure you dig twice as wide as the pot.” The words of John, the garden store guy, who had given me a fast-paced education on planting fruit trees an hour earlier, echoed in my head. I dug my shovel into the rocky dirt in the back corner of my yard. I’d been scoping out this neglected spot for a year, happy with the thought that a tree would eventually make it’s weeds into a more graceful space.

A year ago, I wrote one of my first blogs about my grandmother, who had just passed away at the age of 102. In that blog, I calculated her carbon footprint and my own, and figured I would have to plant 125 trees to offset the difference.  I vowed to start with a cherry tree to honor the anniversary of her passing, but after doing a bit of research, I discovered cherry trees don’t grow well in Austin. I considered planting a lemon tree. My grandma loved the theater and was a beautiful soprano. I will always remember her voice dancing over the words, “Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat,” as she bobbed to and fro on her toes. But when I got to the nursery, I found myself drawn toward the orange trees. I pictured my kids plucking bright oranges, breaking open the citrus skin, and slurping as juice ran down their arms.

I widened the hole until it was twice as big as the pot. I mixed compost and soil the way John had explained. My sister arrived to help me plant the tree. We slipped it into its new home, backfilled, and mulched. We watered and fed our grandma’s tree. We talked about how much we loved her. And, sign of the times, posed for a selfie.


In the year that passed since my grandma died, I have made two changes that cut my carbon footprint. I traded in my mini-van for an all-electric car; and I signed up for Austin Energy’s Greenchoice program, which, for about $7.50 a month, allows the utility to preferentially buy wind energy.

My electric car drives just like a normal car, but a lot quieter. Even the warning sound that it makes when I back up is strangely pleasant. The car’s battery was rated at holding 85 miles of charge, but I routinely get 100.  And I never have to go to a gas station. I just plug in to my house at night, when the grid pulls off the most wind, which means that my car might be wind-powered and emissions-free. This shaves about three trees per year off the carbon gap between my grandma and me.  The move to an electric car has only been good.

I stood back to admire the orange tree. “Something is wrong. It needs to move,” I said.

“What?” my sister said. “We just finished digging and mulching and watering and feeding.”

“There’s too much shade. It’ll never grow.” I looked around and saw a sunny corner in our tiny patch of flat yard. The neglected patch would remain neglected. I grabbed the shovel.

“Seriously?” my sister asked.

“It’s not as hard as it seems.”

We dug the new hole, pulled the tree out of its space in the shade, and moved it. We re-mulched, re-watered, and re-fed.

My sister said, “It looks really happy.”

The tree was ablaze in a spotlight of sun. Drops of water glittered on its leaves and its topmost branches canted forward toward the house. Our grandma’s tree looked like it was taking a bow.



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