On Trees


tree.JPGThe root fungi intercede with water, soil, and atmosphere to manufacture cell nutrients for the tree, while myriad insects carry out summer pruning, decompose the surplus leaves, and activate essential soil bacteria for the tree to use for nutrient flow. The rain of insect faeces may be crucial to forest and prarie health.

What part of this assembly is the tree? Which is the body or entity of the system, and which the part? . . .[Such] separation is for simple minds; the tree can be understood only as its total entity–which, like ours, reaches out into all things . . . Life depends upon life. All forces, all elements, all life forms are the biomass of the tree.”

I finished the chapter on trees in my Permaculture book, and have picked up some new understanding. I had never really quite known just how powerful and affecting trees are on all living things around them. They create precipitation, they recycle water, they protect and nurture the soil, they break and redirect the wind–they harness the light–they cool the heat–they warm the cool–they take life into themselves with the least amount of destruction–they give back more than they take.

This brings my memory back to a time when I visited Sequoia National Park and went on a hike in its forest, and in the midst of this density of trees, far from the road where tourists would drive past the Sherman tree and eat candy bars and take pictures with their kids, stood the most immense living thing I had ever seen–an ancient grandaddy giant Sequoia tree, rising like a god above the surrounding forest. I fought an irresistable urge to prostrate myself before the tree and worship it. Because such trees deserve respect, bearing wisdom far beyond the scope of mankind’s feeble attempts at playing god. All trees are wise, and they can teach you things just by looking at them–where the most light is gathered, from where the hardest wind blows.

Studying this book on Permaculture brings me back to the wonder and mysterious pleasure I felt as a child when I would play in the wild, dense trees and bushes that I was privileged to have growing in my yard. I would lay on the branch of an oak tree directly outside of my bedroom. I would hollow out secret headquarters in thickets that still bear the shape of my childhood to this day. There is a mystery and power and beauty in growing things that is easy to forget in the midst of a city designed for convenience; this can be remembered when you venture back out into the wilderness, when you climb up mountains, walk on swaths of boulders through green trees, listen to a silence punctuated only by animals and wind and an occasional airliner. This sounds like a Sierra Club advertisement, but it is surely criminal to cut down any old growth forests. I don’t believe in religion, but I think if there is such a thing as sin, then it would be to cut down a tree needlessly. You go to the movies and watch dramas that turn morality into black and white, dioramas of good and bad. But there is no simpler and more direct drama of good and evil being played out than the real-life story of the Amazon jungle, and of how every day it’s thriving, truly wild, mysterious, beautiful life is being destroyed by gold diggers, oil drillers, drug traffickers, and short gain agriculture. Here is a story of the wickedness of shortsighted men raping and pillaging something far beyond their understanding–something powerful and wild and dangerous and so full of life in its density that you can’t hear silence, you can’t see the sun, you can’t find your way where you are going or from where you came except by sound and pattern–maps or GPS systems are rendered useless.

Human life is so interdependent on trees as to make our destinies indistinguishable. Disease, drought, and famine follow naturally from deforestation. The promise of replanting trees by loggers is useless in consideration that the trees they are cutting down are irreplaceable–for old growth forest can not simply be “replaced.” The soil will be changed. The climate will be changed. Trees are sacred, and we don’t need to revert to animism to recognize this. The evidence is there, before your eyes, in the science, in the mystery, in the living entity that breathes and dances in the wind, that fosters all creation, beauty, and life.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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