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?

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia! I looked up Ray Bracken and found that he cultivated cold-tolerant magnolias, so bless him for that! There are only a few strains that are cold hardy to zone 4. I had one that seemed to be doing ok, but people kept running over it (it was still quite small and I planted it on a vulnerable corner), so it didn’t survive.
    Nothing that My. Backen was a professional in the area of trees, I would do well to consider leaving a legacy related to my career field.

    • Wow, now I’m curious as to whether you have any specific ideas as to what that might be in your case? Maybe something that combines the artistic/creative with the more obvious facets of engineering?

      • Well, I do have my name on several patents from previous efforts in medical device design, so I suppose that counts.
        The tricky part is to continue to feel I’m contributing, now that I’m doing more documentation remediating activities.

        • Remember, the greatest needs are often for people who will step up and implement or support other people’s ideas designs. In my eyes, that’s as great a contribution as anyone can make. It reminds me of the sign Reagan supposedly had on his presidential desk, that said something along the lines of “there is no limit to the good that you can do, if you don’t care who gets the credit.” A good think to remember when we think of a legacy, I think.

          • That is a good quote and a good thing to remember.

            • Thanks Susan!

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