It is a cool autumn day. The fires of fall have burned themselves to mere embers and only oaks and beech hold rusty colored leaves. This is a clear day after a twenty four hour rain event that has dropped a couple inches of rain over the landscape. The arthritis in my back and knee barks at me; apparently it is time to take a load off of my feet. This aging stuff is not pretty on some days but given the alternative I find no room for complaints.
I spy a large oak in the distance. This tree and I are old friends. I have sat here for countless hours over the last four decades. Coming upon this tree in the forest is like coming home to something familiar. There’s no need for any introductions. I find the large rock at the base of the tree and sit down. The view of the valley before me is somewhat obscured by the many trees that rise up towards the deep blue sky. I look between the tree trunks of various sizes and shpaes and find narrow windows that allow me to see into the distant landscape. These are familiar sights, ones that I have witnessed many times before, but like visiting and old neighborhood for the first time in a while there are subtle changes.
An old white ash, located near the steep rise at the bottom of the hill, has broken in half.. The top of the ash is caught in the tawny branches of a red oak and dangles there held only by a few spindly branches. It looks like it will drop to the ground in the next strong gust of wind. A spring at the base of an outcrop of green, lichen covered bedrock is flowing strongly. This water resource is a favorite drinking spot for a whole host of animals that call this forest their home. One dark evening about twenty years ago I watched a mother bear and two cubs drink from these bubbling waters. The wind was in my face but even still the sow detected my presence without knowing exactly where I was. She stood on her hind legs with her black nose in the air. I remember that I could barely see her with the shroud of night pulling over the forest. She moved the cubs along soon after they had their fill of water.
This old oak on which I rest my back gives me more than comfort. I feel absorbed by the energy of the tree. I imagine that there is some sort of exchange between the tree and me. Trees seem to communicate to those who listen. And why not? This tree and I have a lot in common. In fact, way, way more in common than most people realize.
Life on this blue and green planet began about 3 billion years ago when archaebacteria formed from elements present on Earth. These early forms of life were essentially originative photosynthesis organisms that produced methane. Over the next million or so years they became mobile. This mobility allowed the bacteria to randomly find each other. Some developed mutulistic relationships that aided in both their survival and enhancement. Over the very long haul evolution provided for protoctists which were the Earth’s first multi-cell organisms. These evolved differently enough so that there was the development of three Kingdoms, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. The plant kingdom moved on in one direction and the animal kingdom in another. The two kingdoms, along with the Fungi group, evolved together forming inextricable links that have held together throughout the history of life on this planet.
The fact is that humans share about 50% of our DNA with trees. We are cousins. We are cut from the same cloth so to speak. How wonderful is that? Like all cousins I believe we can communicate if we really pay attention. Maybe there is some type of chemical communication, like pheromones, that hold messages. Maybe there is some type of communication on a cellular level. I’m not sure. It’s just a feeling. And all though I’ve never received any specific message from familiar trees I can’t help but to feel an acceptance when in their presence. Most will think it is all in my imagination. I understand the doubt. On occasion I even doubt it myself.
This tree feeds me. My spirits are lifted when I sit under its huge canopy. I am at peace. I an awed to be in the presence of a living entity that is about 400 years old. I am humbled by its strength and steadfast hold on the bedrock from which it sprouted. And even though I am a large human my size and fortitude pale in comparison to this mammoth tree. I consider it my superior. I am honored to be in this grand tree’s shadow.
And long after I’m gone, and that will be in the not too distant future, this tree will remain. I hope to have my ashes spread here some day. It is a simple way of returning a favor. Perhaps my remains will help to feed the tree. That’s the least you can do for an old friend.
And with those thoughts coming to an end I stand. My eyes trace long angular branches that extend from the oak’s massive trunk. These branches, perhaps 70 feet in length, look like outstretched arms welcoming those who inhabit the entire forest; thousands and thousands of acres of a living ecosystem. I can’t help but smile. Another message received.
And with that I continue my journey on this day in the woods quietly moving amongst giants that no one seems to notice.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in November 2013,