“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” (Nelson Henderson)

Way back in 1962, when I was only 8 years old, my grandfather, Guy R. McClintick, started planting a tree farm on his property in Minnesota.  He was in his 70’s at the time and we all wondered what he was doing digging holes for hundreds of trees. All he said was, “These are for you.” Now, almost fifty years later, we have an incredible stand of white pines. One of my cousins and her husband are thinning out the trees and are going to use the lumber to build a cabin some day. What a great gift to leave for your grandchildren.

My grandfather was always thinking ahead like that.  He never worried about the past and he always looked to the future.  He was the most practical person I ever knew. To him the most important thing of all was to help others and leave the world a better place than he found it. It wasn’t just his motivation, it was the whole point of living. Anything less than that would be considered a failure. He never got rich by being this way but what he lacked in possessions, he made up for in friends and family. Everybody liked and respected him as the one person they could always count on to keep his promises.

I wish there were more people like my grandfather. It wasn’t just his accomplishments either, it was more about his attitude toward life. He was truly happy in his work and was eager to do more. He never took time off except to go fishing or hunting and even then the point was to get something for dinner. From dawn to dusk he made a difference for everybody around him. His attitude was infectious and we all did more just so we could stand next to him and compare ourselves to the standard he set.

The world would be a much better place if we just had more people like that to show us the way. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to make and keep promises, who genuinely give more than they receive and are always thinking ahead. We need to raise the standard of expectation and the sense of accomplishment that goes with it. I can’t tell you how good I felt when my grandfather praised me for working hard.

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” In order to do that we have to demonstrate integrity, honesty, discipline and responsibility on a daily basis. We have to actually expect more from ourselves and look for ways to help. It’s not enough to just talk about character, you have to walk the walk. The opportunities available to us are unlimited. There are just so many people who need help.  The sense of fulfillment that comes from making a difference will change your life forever.

My grandfather still serves as my role model. I think about all the firewood he cut by hand, all the fish he caught, all the cabins he built and all the people who held him in such high esteem. He left the world much better than he found it and that’s the standard I strive for each day. How about you?

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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28 Responses to “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” (Nelson Henderson)

  1. I relish, result in I found exactly what I was taking
    a look for. You have ended my four day long hunt!
    God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  2. Surely you will cherish your grandfather even more if you watch the award-winning short animated film, “The Man Who Planted Trees” — free on youtube.

  3. Jason Henderson says:

    Nelson was my Grandfather. Sounds like he shared similar values to your Grandfather as well. He farmed in Northern Manitoba, married Eunice Henderson and raised 8 kids, along with several native foster kids in the area. He used to use that phrase as a reminder to us that life isn’t always about “us”
    Today, I found out that his son,, my father has serious cancer. I was googling for some inspiration. Grampa’s “Under Whos Shade” saying came to mind. I had NO idea it was all over the internet. I am stunned, and very inspired that a small town farmer’s meaning for life could become such an inspiring phrase. I am humbled beyond words.
    Thank you for choosing a thought that means so much.
    God Bless You

    • grhgraph says:

      I’m honored to be included in your family heritage. I’m certain our grandfathers were cut from the same cloth. It is one of my very favorite quotes and knowing more about Nelson Henderson makes it even more special. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly five years and now I know it was worth every ounce of effort I put into it. Maybe writing is kind of like planting trees.
      Now I’m really curious, how did your grandfather’s quote get published? Was he a writer too? Any information about your family you could share would be most appreciated and would probably lead to another post. If you prefer, just contact me at my gmail account, grhorst54@gmail.com.
      I would like to stay in touch if at all possible. I just lost my dad to lymphoma two years ago so I know something about what you’re going through and I would be happy to share the wisdom he shared with me in his last years.
      Thanks again and please feel free to stay connected.
      Guy Horst

    • Naomi Zürcher says:

      Dear Jason. Clearly this is one of the attributes of the internet. I am in the process of writing a book about Tree >< People connections and its relevance to Urban & Community Forestry participatory management. I found your Grandfather's quote in some tree-related material and decided to use it in my book. I was searching for more information about the author of the quote when I cam across this blog. While I too lost my husband to cancer, I would like to think that our connection is our love for the land and all that it sustains, including us.
      Naomi Zürcher

  4. Pingback: “For a long time now I have tried to simply write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” (Ernest Hemingway) | Grhgraph's Blog

  5. duaneburman says:

    Guy, I went “digging” for this after having amazing “TEAM’ing” opportunity to attend new SpongeBob Square Pants movie last night with 9-year old grandson—Antonio Banderas makes a great straightman as the Pirate; truly a multi-generational contribution to all of our futures!
    I’d ask that you see the movie, if you have not; and reflect upon the experience(s) on several age
    levels—perhaps rekindling the emotions to build upon what inspired you to write this great reflection around times with your amazing Grandad!

    • grhgraph says:

      That was a very circuitous route to get back to an old, old blog. It is still one of my favorites tho so thanks for the advice. I think about my dad and grand dad a lot especially now that my life has become such a struggle. I try to plant trees every day because I may not have many days left. I can’t escape the feeling that God may be calling me home soon. It kind of helps me get thru the day knowing I have something even better ahead. Better go now, I have trees to attend to.

      • Pinaki says:

        I belong to a small town in eastern India. When i was around 4 years old, my grand parents used to tell a small story, that i still remember. When I went to the school I read the same in my literature courses. A oldman in his late 70’s was planting a mango tree in a very hot noon. A curious passerby after watching him for some days, asked,” you are too old to wait for the tree become ready to bear the ripe mangoes, so why r u planting them?The oldman replied,”the treed from whome i am eating the mangoes in my life time are not planted by me, but by my predecesors, whatever i am planting it is obviously for my successors.After reading ‘under whose shed’ , i got the crux, that ‘planting trees, under whose shed u cannot sit – is a universal concept, nice book….

      • grhgraph says:

        Thanks for your comment. I believe this is a universal concept. Everything we do in our lives is going to leave something for the next generation, either good or bad. Let us hope that most people try to leave something good. The future would be much better if we all learned this valuable lesson. I pray for that daily.
        Guy Horst

  6. Jason says:

    Thank you for the post. I got a copied via email, I suspect because I posted earlier. It was through this link that I realized Guy has responded to my earlier post of almost exactly a year ago. I had no idea there was a response waiting for me. Guy, I’ll send you an email as requested.

  7. Richard Schlatter says:

    I am a graphic designer and children’s book author, living in Battle Creek, Michigan. I recently wrote and illustrated a book titled, “The Old Man and the Tree”. The book, based on my own personal true story, tells of a man who moves into his home as a young man and sees a small maple tree in his backyard. After a time, they become friends and Fred begins to enjoy the wonderful things that the tree gives—shade in the summer, a habitat for the birds, and colorful leaves in the fall. However, after many years, Fred becomes bothered by what he feels are the tree’s bad habits—seed pods clogging his gutters and dead leaves in the fall—eventually cutting the tree down.
    Once he cuts the tree down, Fred realizes that the old tree was indeed something special, and takes steps to begin anew the circle of life. The main message teaches children the importance of maintaining lasting friendships. It also teaches children that we all are stewards of the nature around us and the importance of respecting and taking care of the gifts nature gives us. When Fred sees a small seed pod on the ground after the tree is cleared away, he plants it in a pot of dirt and grows a new tree which he plants in his yard the following spring. Trees are important, valuable and necessary to our existence—we should replace the trees that we cut down or are destroyed, for the benefit of future generations.
    The book is available on Amazon, com and was published by SDP Publishing of East Bridgewater, MA Presently, I have a fund set up for donations from individuals and grants from foundations so I can purchase books to distribute to second grade classes. My mission is to reach 1,000 second grade students each year. I go to their school, read the book to them, then discuss the messages in the book which are 1. to “think about the consequences of your actions before you say or do something” 2. The importance of friendships…”never cut down your friends” 3. And the importance of trees….always plant a tree if you cut one down.
    I came across your grandfather’s quote, “The true meaning of life is to plan trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” and just love it. In fact, I use it on my letterhead. I would have loved to meet him, however, I was born the year after he died.
    Richard Schlatter

    • grhgraph says:

      Thanks for the wonderful story. Just to be clear, the quote is from Nelson Henderson who was a Canadian farmer. My grandfather was Guy R. McClintick who lived near Brainerd MN. Oddly enough, Nelson Henderson’s grandson Jason contacted me about the blog too. It’s such an inspiring quote I just had to use it. Your efforts to tell this story to children are very much appreciated. When I’m not writing this blog, I work with foster children. I drive them all over the state of Kansas and the stories I hear are painful to say the least. If you can reach a 1000 kids a year with your message, that will surely make a difference in their future. We need to do all we can to give kids a positive message about the meaning of life. It was easy for me growing up because I had my dad and grandfather to show me the right way. Many children today have no role models and very few lessons about what really matters in life. If there is any part of my story you can ever use, feel free to do so. The more often, we repeat this quote and the moral of the story, the better. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. You just made my day.
      Guy Horst

  8. Pallabi says:


  9. Melany says:

    Hi everyone.

    I’m not sure if this comment will be read, given that the other comments on here are from about four years ago… But I have to say that I am moved by what I have read on here. I bought an agenda filled with inspirational quotes about nature, and my favourite one was “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit,” by a Nelson Henderson. I read this, and loved its message. I had no idea who Nelson Henderson was, so I decided to Google him. I found next to nothing… except for this blog. I’m amazed.

    I’m on my way to becoming a high school teacher (in Canada), and the above quote is exactly the message I want to convey to my future students. I also plan on working with at-risk children and youth, who, not unlike the foster care children whom one of you mentioned, may not have the guidance that a child needs to get through life more or less happily.

    I’m glad I found this. May we all plant many “trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.”


    • grhgraph says:

      Thanks for your comment. This is one of the first blogs I ever wrote and it still continues to be very popular. The Nelson Henderson quote is one I found decades ago when I was in college. It reminded me so much of my own grandfather that I just had to write about this wonderful philosophy of life. As you noted, I currently work with at-risk foster kids and that’s a lot like planting trees for the future. I will never see most of them grow up but I still try to give them a good start despite their difficult circumstances. I hope you continue to read my words by following my site. I’ve been at this for nine years now and there are a variety of subjects that needed my articulation. Please feel free to use any of my passages with your future students. Good creative writing is becoming a thing of the past but I still think it has incredible value. My favorite teacher of all time was my high school English teacher, Everett Rees. His name pops up more than a few times in my posts. You will have that same opportunity to make a lasting impression on your students and I sincerely hope you do so. If you happen to have a favorite quote, please pass it along and I promise to give it my best effort.
      Peace be with you always.
      Guy Horst

  10. Lezlee Inman says:

    Good Morning, like Melany I am very late to this post.
    Jason and Guy, Thank you both so much, as I was researching this quote I came across your blog post.
    Jason, I would like to use your Grandfather’s quote as part of a college scholarship fund I am creating in memory of my son. It is my hope this is acceptable to you and your family. Would you kindly let me know. I am happy to share the scholarship information if you like.
    Please e mail directly as I may not see anything here.
    Thank you,
    Lezlee Inman

    • grhgraph says:

      I will pass your information on to Jason so you two can correspond directly. It always amazes me how this particular post continues to bring people together. I have likened the act of writing to that of planting trees and I think it’s a perfect metaphor and a great way to leave something for future generations to appreciate. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Steven Wilder says:

    I have started a tree farm on my property. I turned 60 last month. Then my wife found your blog and sent me the link. I like your grandfather!

    • grhgraph says:

      Where is the tree farm at Steve? You’re sharing a proud history with my grandfather. He was the greatest man I ever knew. Keep up the good work. Thanks for reading my blog and your comment.

    • J Henderson says:

      Good morning. I thought it appropriate for full disclosure on the quote associated with my Grandfather. I recently found a very similar quote from an Indian poet. It’s likely this is where Grandpa adapted his version. 50 years ago pre-internet. Important that we give credit where credit is due. “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.” This quote is attributed to Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet who died in 1941

      • grhgraph says:

        Great to hear from you again.I appreciate the information and I will include this in a new blog. In my search for famous quotations to use on my blog I have been struck by how many bear a remarkable resemblance to something said long ago. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with repeating great wisdom and adding to it but attribution is important. Thanks for giving me another subject to write about.

      • grhgraph says:

        I just posted a new blog giving credit for the quote. I hope you enjoy the theme.
        Thanks again. Always great to hear from you.

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