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Four years ago today my mother died–January 4, 2011.

Though the rain was coming down hard when I headed outside this morning, I filled the wheelbarrow with rich dark compost from my bin and mulched the sasanqua camellia I planted in my mother’s honor.

I also fertilized the small red maple, a “walk away,” as my mother called seedlings that sprouted near their parents. The maple’s giant mother still thrives in the backyard of the house my parents owned for decades up in Rhode Island. My son, in his brief life, stared at that mother tree–my young daughters later climbed and swung from its gracious branches.

I mulched the anise shrub for my mother-in-law, a holly in memory of a friend’s father, an oak leaf hydrangea outside the kitchen window for a friend’s son who died when he was 33.

I talk to these shrubs and trees, and they offer back. The red holly berries and its shiny leaves. I clip sprigs for the house during the winter holidays.

The deep green camellia will soon send out pink flowers with yellow centers; the hydrangea stalks will produce huge floppy leaves soft as velvet.

And the red maple will erupt in a canopy of maroon leaves shaped like stars, each holding a memory–and a promise.