Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Fallen

Hiking along a favourite trail, I came across some trees—mostly fir but also cedar—stately beings who had fallen in last year's wind storm. These trees were two maybe three hundred years old. I tried to count the rings on their ragged stumps, it was dizzying.

Why had these trees fallen? They had seemed well protected in this grove of old growth forest and yet they had, indeed, uprooted. I’ve come to expect this in areas of second growth or near logging slashes but here, in this spared area, it came as a surprise.

No doubt climate change plays a large part in this. We suffered a drought that summer and our temperate rain forest felt the lack: without the moisture the foundation weakened. This change is partly my responsibility. Would I be here today, living with the privilege I do, without the earth ravaging technologies that spurred on the growth I currently enjoy?

But still, here, in my little protected area, is there something else, forgive the unintentional pun, afoot?

I hike a lot, several times a week my feet walk the trails, stepping on roots, shifting dirt. I hike for solace, I hike for fitness; I hike for my spirit. Is my pleasure hurting those with whom I seek sanctuary? It is part of the issue, for sure. One has only to hike the more popular trails to see the damage many feet have done to roots. Then again, I feel it is only salt on the wound.

These fallen trees have stood tall for two centuries or more. They are not the oldest trees on record, middle aged, one might say. Why did they fall? I fear for those who still stand. Will they live to become elders? Are they falling now because we have cut down so many of the ancients? Do trees hear the lament of others, perhaps many kilometers away and surrender to the elements in knowing what’s to come? Or do they fall because few are left to teach resilience? What do we know of the communication that these beings have between each other?

Ecologist speak of mycorrhizal fungi—beings within our rich earth—who live symbiotically with trees. The fungi increase access to important minerals (for the trees) and receive vital chlorophyll from their verdant hosts. Their lives, connected by a vast web of fibres, depend on each other. It has also been shown that winter-tolerant conifers have aided other, more fragile trees, by transferring not only food through these fibres but disease protecting properties. In other words, they communicate with each othersupport one anothermuch like we, as humans do, through our own mass of fibres: the internet.

But I don’t need a scientist to tell me that trees communicate. 

I hike, as I said, regularly. In the early morning hours I walk the dark path, mindfully trying to avoid the roots that arise above the soil. I have friends within this forest and I stop to acknowledge our kinship. Most times I am not still enough to hear their individual voices with clarity but I know they are communicating; I know what they are saying is important. Sometimes I hear their message. But it is like learning a new language without fully immersing oneself into the culture.

When I do still my inner being—really still it, that is, with an awareness of only oneness—I hear their voices. The middle aged ones, it seems, are more keen to establish a connection. They are playful, eager to create relationships.The aged ones are more reticent, but then again, perhaps it is only me and I anthropomorphize too much. Perhaps the ancients only require a deeper stillness. When I gift them with that, words seem unnecessary. The transfer of energy enough.

But I have rerouted this essay to be about me. The question remains: why do healthy trees fall? I have not yet directly asked this question to those in the forest who would truly know; perhaps I do not want to know the answer. 

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  1. Beautifully poignant and inspirational! I just love your connection with nature.

  2. Thank you, Bonnie Bee! I love your support.