If I do nothing else

This tree is now immense, a fitting symbol of the country Washington helped to grow. I took this photo at Mount Vernon in April, 2010.

This tree is now immense, a fitting symbol of the country Washington helped to grow.
I took this photo at Mount Vernon in April, 2010.

“If I do nothing else in my lifetime but leave the world a good tree, I’ve done something.”Ray Bracken

George Washington did far more than leave the world a good tree.  He left an entire estate of trees, shrubs, flowers and innovative building techniques that can be seen to this day at Mount Vernon, Virginia.  I photographed the modestly labeled Tulip Poplar there, though it was scarcely noticed by the tourists captivated by other attractions at Washington’s home.  The Tulip Poplar is the state tree of Tennessee, where I once worked for the Division of Forestry, but the tree in the photograph above is perhaps the largest Tulip Poplar I have ever seen (too large to capture in a single photograph), and it grows in Virginia.

Of course, Washington did numerous other noteworthy things, about which you have likely heard or read.  And Bracken, who is quoted above, did more than just plant a tree.  He developed new cultivars of the lovely Magnolia, and anyone who has ever enjoyed the sumptuous beauty of these giants will agree that he accomplished more than enough.

I liked Bracken’s quote because it underscores the importance of keeping a focus on realistic goals.  Most of us have more ambition than we have time to fulfill.  Whether our goal is to save lives, save souls, feed the hungry, provide homes for those without them, or rescue wildlife or domestic animals, or maybe all of the above, sooner or later we are bound to bump up against the disappointing reality of our own limitations.  At such times, we need to remind ourselves that, if we do what we can, that will be enough, and sometimes even more than enough.

Most of us will never accomplish the kinds of things that George Washington (or even Ray Bracken) accomplished.  But that’s OK.  It’s likely that there are things we can do, every day, that nobody else could or would.  If we focus on the something(s) we can do, we’ll ultimately do more, because we will not be burdened with regrets about the things that now seem to be beyond our reach.

What kind of “good tree” do you most hope to leave for the world?  What can you do today, to work toward that goal?


  1. Julia, do you remember that you have presented an example of the “state tree” of Tennessee? I have rarely met an individual who knows more about trees than I – identification by stature, foliage, and even bark, in the dead of Winter. And yet, I despise the sobriquet, “tree hugger”, and all that it implies.

    • Eric, I did know (and always have, since my days at the TDF) the name of the Tennessee state tree. The Georgia state tree is the Live Oak. I don’t know much about trees, though, and I confess I have never hugged one, though as Tommy Smothers said, “I just talk to the trees.” 🙂

      • I also remembered the lyrical-sounding scientific name of the liriodendron tulipifera even before I saw the label on GW’s tree.

  2. Karen Hamilton

    Thank you Julia. I think I will post this next to my calendar.

    • Thanks Karen, that makes me feel happy :-).

  3. Sheila

    Good morrning, Julia. You have really presented “food for thought” today. Modest means can still be the foundation of many accomplishments! I preach “find your passion” to our grandchildren. We have a beautiful morning with invigorating temps. I will take time to notice the marsh grasses as I leave Garden City this morning. Their shades from green to yellow are our coastal “fall”. I hope Matt is on the mend.

    • Thanks, Sheila. It took me a year or two in California to realize it, but the coasts DO have seasons and fall foliage, they just manifest differently. I appreciate your comment this morning, a nice addition to my morning!

      • Sheila

        You’re the smartest BLONDE I know!

  4. I did not make my question clear. Did you remember, without looking it up? Do you know (again without help) the state tree of Georgia?

    • Yes, I did know without looking it up. Most of the considerable information I learned at the TDF has been lost to memory, but a few scientific names remain rattling around on my aging and dicey internal hard drive.

      • Dicey? I cannot think of that word without it conjuring up weather situations (over a thirty-seven year period) that were interesting, to say the least. I am impressed with your retention of taxonomic classifications 🙂

        • Your weather-related, flying-related nightmares are a precise and fitting analogy of what’s happening in our lives right now. I am hoping for the proverbial giant handprint you mentioned seeing on the bottom of your fuselage after such situations.

      • Does the large genus, Acer, mean anything to you?

        • Maple! I’ve always wanted an acer rubrum. Our next door neighbors have a rather exotic version of one, and it’s glorious.

  5. Very well drafted and brought forth worth knowing point.
    One may not be able to do something good but must not spoil otherwise.

    • Thanks, Lvsrao! I appreciate your visits here and your supportive comments. Some of us are called to be caretakers of the accomplishments of others, and these roles are important too. I hope you are doing well!

  6. merry

    Love the trees!

    • So do I! We are in good company, obviously!

  7. That’s a good question Julia. I’ve never really thought that I was significant enough to leave ‘The World’ something memorable, or needed. If the Beatles were right and “All you need is love” then maybe I’m on track a little bit. Since we don’t have children, our estate (someday it’s inevitable for us all) will be divided between a number of our favourite charities. One thing I guess, I’ve research our family history and got a fair bit of photo’s and info that none of us kids got before. Someday, I hope my brothers kids might enjoy that and be glad I put it together. Right now, they’re just busy being young men with ton’s of adventure.

    • It sounds like you are leaving many good things for the world. I do think the Beatles song is a good theme there, because remember there are ripple effects to all the things we do, and when we bless someone’s life with love, it enables them to bless others. It’s like a river that keeps flowing. Jeff and I have made arrangements to have some of what we leave behind go to various charities too. Beyond these little things, I think in one sense almost everything we do lasts in some way, even if it’s hidden to us now. We are all influenced by countless things our parents and grandparents said and did, even before we were around to hear about them. I don’t know how long all these blog archives will be around, but if anyone ever stumbles on them decades (or even centuries) from now, we are all leaving a very significant combined record of what it was like to be a human in the 21st century. Your blog will be one of the happy places!!

      • Aww, Julia. I’m glad it’s a happy place. Thank you so much for your message. It’s hard to know what will be on-line decades or, gasp, centuries from now. Maybe ‘on-line’ will even be something else and the Web will be like 8 tracks, old format. As usual, I have more questions than answers, LOL. Great topic Julia.

        • I hope the blogs will become holographic, so I can visit the Boomdee craft room for a demo! 🙂

  8. PS, I didn’t get to Mt Vernon but visited Monticello and was in awe that some of the tree’s were so giant and old. Next time, I must get there. Just think of all the changes that tree has been around and people who may have enjoyed it’s grace and shade, it boggles my brain. Awesome

    • What amazed me about that particular tree is that we have a tree LARGER than that on our York property! And since we are so close to where Captain John Smith landed, I often wonder whether Pocahontas and her friends were ever in the vicinity of our gigantic oak (which would have been very small then). Of course she probably wasn’t, but maybe some of her relatives? Believe it or not, in nearly 10 years of living in Virginia, I’ve never, ever been to Monticello! Jeff and I hope to go this spring.

      • WOW, that’s really something to have a tree that mature in your own yard. Are they protected or anything? What would stop some silly person from cutting one down if they didn’t like it?
        I slipped away to read up on Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. Seems like there are a few different theories. They think she was only 10 or 12 when she met Smith. Geez, different times alright. You are in a great location, I love learning about history but you can actually see it, touch it, walk around it…very cool.

        • The first time Drew saw our back yard and wooded lot (when he came home from college) he immediately started humming “Colors of the Wind” and now that beautiful song often comes to my mind when I’m back there. Maybe it’s one reason I feel so connected to our little half-acre-plus.

          • That song gave me goose bumps! Thanks for the introduction Julia. I’ve never seen that film, I really must. It’s such a beautiful message. 😀

            • I’m glad you like it! I do hear the strains of the music in my head so often when I’m outside. The Disney movies have given us a lot of wonderful songs.

      • Julia, be prepared to be just a little disappointed. For all the enormity of Jefferson’s intellect; his well thought-out home was quite modest (especially when compared to the likes of the Hearst Mansion, or the Biltmore). And at the same time, I know you are enough like me that the very modesty of the structure will bring admiration.

        • Actually, what I most want to see are the gardens (hence our plan to go in the springtime) and the ingenious and eccentric features of the house. I believe it was Bill Bryson’s book At Home that first made me aware of the many odd features of the house and its plans – some of which strongly support the claim I’ve seen floated in more than one place, that Jefferson may have been mildly autistic. After being forced (by overly zealous fans visiting us in Memphis from out of town) to tour Graceland, I doubt any place can be more disappointing to see in person – or more sad.

  9. It’s sad that many of us (including me) spend years here without doing anything worthwhile for others. We feel bored and complain that our lives are meaningless without realizing there are a hundred simple acts of kindness we can easily do for the society. What can I do? Thanks for stirring up this thought in me. Hope it would get translated into some good deeds very soon.

    • You have already done one good deed by posting your comment here – I am always cheered to hear from you! I wish you a wonderful weekend full of happy discoveries!


  1. The full value of trees | Defeat Despair

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