04/03/2012 06:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2012

Planting Seeds and Legacy

Why do we plant seeds, saplings and seedlings with hope in our hearts each spring? Why do we relish harvesting in autumn? We plant in order to harvest -- not just for the moment but to preserve and nurture the future.

Think about the physical act of planting as an act of faith -- faith that a seedling will become a tree -- faith in the future.

Our relationship with trees (physically, conceptually, and metaphorically) is integral to our lives and our legacies. How so? We live in an interdependent partnership with the plant world in which we exchange life, the very oxygen we breathe. Thus we need to care for trees, keep them healthy, plant new ones for the future, and replant lost trees, hug them and love them unconditionally for their primary gifts to us: oxygen and food, and their secondary gifts that include beauty.

In 2009 my son's family participated in a project of 350 volunteers who replanted 25,000 white and red pines in a section of the Superior National Forest destroyed earlier by fire. Lily, my granddaughter, 13, reflected on her experience, "One day when I go camping there with my kids, the trees I planted with my family will be grown."

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees,
under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
-- Nelson Henderson

Olive trees live deep within me. It is said that some in the Mediterranean world have lived more than 2,000 years. Imagine planting olive seedlings as an act of love for future generations. When I began my work empowering women to write legacy letters for the future, I adapted as a theme a Talmudic tale about a man named Honi. He, in his old age, was asked why he was planting a carob tree. I changed the hero to a heroine and envisioned her planting an olive tree. My favorite olive tree is from the island of Djerba, Tunisia, the island of Homer's Lotus Eaters. It lives on the grounds of the oldest synagogue in North Africa. To me, it signifies the power of hope for the future while honoring the wisdom of the past, the two linked by the present.

An old woman planting an olive tree was asked if she expected to benefit from its fruit or shade. She responded that she wasn't planting for herself, but for her children and grandchildren. "I found fully grown trees in the world. As my ancestors blessed me, so I bless the future by planting for the generations to come."

-- An ancient legend, retold

We can also consider planting trees as metaphors. Isn't nurturing your passion, your purpose, like caring for a tree that may only blossom or ear fruit many years from now? Isn't philanthropy a way to plant a seedling that will bear its fruits in perpetuity? Isn't planting a value or an ideal meant to enhance the lives of our loved ones long after we're gone?

Doesn't appreciating and valuing trees, caring for them in their fragile beginnings, teach us to value people who too are beautiful and fragile saplings needing care and protection so they can grow into their potential, into their maturity, into their beauty? Think of us, beings that need strong roots, that naturally branch out into the world to flower, that affect and are affected by our environment, and that yearn to give the world our gifts: our sap, our seeds, our blossoms, our fruit.

José Julián Martí Pérez, philosopher and Cuban independence hero, expressed what everyone ought to do before they die: "Plant a tree, write a book, have a child." This idea, also attributed to the Talmud, can be read as a metaphor suggesting that for all of us to live our lives fully in the present, we should pursue and nurture what we're passionate about, plant values for the future, and write legacy letters.

In the spring of 2007 Edna C. Groves, a legacy circle facilitator, invited people to a workshop with these words:

"In the lengthening light of longer days, come ...
to prepare the ground for spring's bloom inside you.
Come to ... nourish the heirloom seedlings you contain
of hope, promise and joy, inviting ... legacies."

I invite you in the spring of 2012 to do the same.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Recall "the trees" you've planted in your life.

2. Consider your present priorities and what you want to plant for future generations. Your
plantings may include love for specific people, service for people and organizations you want to
nurture, financial trees you want to seed now or in your will, new relationships and endeavors
that up to now have only been wistful thoughts and un-lived dreams.

3. Muse and write to develop new seedlings; decide how much water, sunlight, and weeding
they need to flourish as part of your life.

4. Write a letter to yourself, or to someone you want to share plantings with, or to the seedlings

5. Plant a real seedling with a grandchild in your yard, deck or theirs. Celebrate its growth
together as you watch it (and them) grow to maturity (new branches, blossoms, and fruit).

6. Process notes: Reflect on your experience of choosing trees to plant and what that means in
your life.

"May we all experience the joy of planting
to make a difference for future generations,"
-- Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at or through e-mail,

Rachael Freed has published several works including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient." She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and

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