Keeping Quiet with the Mother Trees
"I think it’s time for me to go get lost in the woods
Forty days and forty nights should do me some good
Out beyond the cities and broken land highways
Walk into the old world
Walk into the old world
Walk walk walk
Away from the road"
-Fendrick & Peck , Away From The Road
What can I say? I've fallen in love with this bowed over Longleaf Pine sapling that lives at Morningside Nature Preserve on the east side of my adopted home town. It lives at the edge of a small Sandhill forest and has been like this since the spring after the good people set a prescribed fire as part of their restoration efforts. It is a tree now old enough to withstand the burn. Bowed but unbroken, it will mature alongside its siblings.
The forest changed after the prescribed fire. The ground was black and vegetation half burned. The fire created a mosaic pattern of burned and unburned plants throughout the forest. Most noticeable was the immediate quietness of the forests. Burned before the bird breeding season began, the stillness in the forest felt like the moment just before a conductor starts a symphony. For weeks, the air was silent with anticipation.
It is in this forest and others that I spent some of my summer slowly walking, and listening, and breathing, and keeping quiet. Like the sapling, in my own life, and in the life of many Americans, a fire swept through the landscape this spring and summer. Fires that burned too hot and scorched lives.
Being in the forests this summer was not a fully conscious choice. Rather, it was like I was magnetized to them. Instead of trying to make sense of it and of life, I just walked and listened and kept my thoughts as still as possible. I did, however, choose to take a break from writing, hosting events, and moving forward on program development. Thankfully, I work with amazing people who completely understood and championed the stillness.
I cannot say for sure what happened in the forest this summer but something shifted. A kind of kinship emerged between the trees and me. I recently read several articles and watched an excellent Ted Talk about how trees talk to each other. Especially interesting is the role that "Mother Trees" play in the regeneration of forests. They send food and signals through the "wood wide web" to their young to help them mature, especially during tough times (like when a fire sweeps through).
Could these mother trees have been sending me signals too? Like the sapling probably was, did I send up some kind of biochemical stress signal that triggered the trees to send some kind of support signal back? Was I talking to them far more than I realized? No doubt, this notion will raise red flags for many. But after reading more and more about how nature helps "us", biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, I cannot help but wonder if we are talking to each other in ways we don't yet understand? I don't know, but I am experiencing more moments of forest communion. More moments of being "of" the forest and not merely "in" the forest.
I do know that there is mystery here, in this place of connection, and I am okay with not knowing the answer. I am good with being in awe and offering my gratitude. The Mother Trees and their offspring have my adoration every day.
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)