I am standing along the banks of the Colorado River. The morning sun is rising above the horizon turning the speckled clouds across the sky a fusion of pinks, oranges, and purples. I am standing in soft sand, the kind that billows up into my face at the slightest movement. I am holding two 5 gallon buckets.
I am listening to Joe (name has been changed), a Native American of the Quechan Tribe, on whose land we are standing as he explained that several months ago over 200 youth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints helped plant hundreds of indigenous trees all along the river to help beautify and preserve the land.
The challenge was that now that summer was approaching and temperatures can rise to nearly 120 Fahrenheit, there was concern about the trees getting enough water. If they could make it through this season, chances would be that the roots would be deep enough by next year for the trees to survive. But for now, there was a need to get water from the river to each of the trees. And that’s why I am holding two 5 gallon buckets. Joe is showing us how to reach the buckets into the river and pull them out without falling in. We are then to carry the buckets of water to the trees, some of which are almost an acre away from the river.
Joe also suggested that we talk to the trees as we are giving them water. “They are living things,” he said. “Encourage them with kind words. Cheer them on.”
Shamefully, I rolled my eyes. I was here at the request of my wife and had about ten other things that I thought I could be doing on a Saturday morning besides carrying water to trees. But I am not one to complain… out loud anyway. So, I dipped my buckets in the river and started to walk.
The water splashed all over my pants and shoes getting them all muddy. My arms started to ache as I carried the buckets of water nearly 50 yards to the farthest tree. I thought to myself, “There has got to be a better way of doing this.” and then my ethnocentrism kicked in. I started imagining how we could dig lines for a sprinkler system or hire a big water truck to drive along the trees spraying water.
But then I noticed some young men laughing and singing as they carried their buckets of water to the trees. They had smiles on their faces. I did not. Immediately, I recognized that my shadows were out.
The impotent one saying: This is too hard. Why are we doing this anyway? It’s not going to make much of a difference. The trees are probably going to die anyway. This is so dumb.
The Rebel: You could be doing something else right now. You could be mowing your own lawn or doing the laundry. I don’t know why you are doing this.
The Judge: You think you know better don’t you. You think you know how to do everything better. Look at those young men having a good time. Why aren’t you smiling?
As I carried the water, the louder they got. The more the water splashed on my shoes creating sand into muddy cement that weighed down my feet, the louder they got.
And then I arrived at the tree. Calling it a tree was being generous. It was really just a twig sticking out of the ground. And it needed me. It needed what I had to offer — right now.
And so I poured the first bucket of water out into the hollowed-out area around the tree. And then I poured the second. And then I heard something that I realized were words coming out of my mouth. “Hey, little tree. I have some water for you. I believe in you little tree. You have what it takes. By this time next year, you will have grown so much. You will have grown branches and will be able to provide shade. You will provide food and shelter for animals and birds. Those who wander here will see your beauty and how you contribute to the beauty of this entire area. You can do it, little tree. I love you.”
And I found myself smiling as I returned to the river to fill my buckets with more water.