Pictured is my fourth attempt at growing a poplar from seed. The seed, which was within a capsule-like fruit, landed in my garden after it drifted in the wind, courtesy of an attachment to a cottony puff. Most people, if they notice them at all, think they are an annoyance that have to be skimmed off swimming pools. They are in instead another species’ way of perpetuating itself. And they are more ephemeral than most flowers. In fact, prior to germination, the soil must have been moist because poplar seeds are only viable for a few days.
The third attempt failed. After germinating in the same manner and location, I transplanted a one-foot poplar to the green strip between the sidewalk and the street, in the spot where a city tree had died. But after 5 years of neglect, officials decided to finally plant a new one where my poplar stood. I moved it to my yard, but my neighbour’s dog chewed a ring around its bark, removing the phloem, which led to the starvation of its roots.
The second attempt was a prequel of the first third one’s history, with the same cause of death—girdling, it’s called—but with a different perpetrator. A city worker with a noisy, fossil fuel-powered weed wacker inadvertently killed it. It’s why I surrounded the vulnerable trunk of Poplar Number 4 with a mesh, in case the neighbour’s dog returns with the same intention, which it already has, or in case the cord of the weed wacker somehow slips and covers three times its intended radius.
Attempt number one happened decades ago when I was still a teenager living at my parents. I had been watching its quick growth when one day I found it in the garden with its roots pointing to the sky. I revived it temporarily, only to be told by my father that it was a useless tree. It’s not, actually. Aside from its beauty and ability to remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert water to oxygen, the wood can be used for plywood and matches. But that was never my reason for caring about poplars.
Between the ages of 5 and 10, there were hundreds of poplars in what we considered to be our backyards, given that there was no fence separating our properties from the woods. In those woods we built cabins and fires, ate berries, climbed trees. My grandmother even taught us how to make bows and arrows from the soft, easily peeled wood of poplars. Then one spring, a bulldozer, in a matter of hours, wiped out the natural playground of our childhood. Three of us screamed at the operator. When he told us to get lost, I picked up a small rock and threw it at him with Rusty Staub-like accuracy. Luckily, it did not hit him in the head but in the back. He tried to chase us, but we ran away like rabbits. The exhilaration from the escape was short-lived, but the urge to spread poplars all over the city has never gone away.