She addresses the cedar

She addresses the cedar, using words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next. “Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Thank you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.” Each new item is release and relief. Finding no good reason to quit now, she lets the gratitude spill out. “Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The clothes closets. The paneling. I forget. . . . Thank you,” she says, following the ancient formula. “For all these gifts that you have given.” And still not knowing how to stop, she adds, “We’re sorry. We didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.”

~ Richard Powers, from “Patricia Westerford” in The Overstory: A Novel (April 3, 2018)


Notes:

Aspens alone quake when all others stand in dead calm

She gets out of the car and walks up into the trees on the crest west of the road. Aspens stand in the afternoon sun, spreading along the ridge out of sight. Populus tremuloides. Clouds of gold leaf glint on thin trunks tinted the palest green. The air is still, but the aspens shake as if in a wind. Aspens alone quake when all others stand in dead calm. Long flattened leafstalks twist at the slightest gust, and all around her, a million two-toned cadmium mirrors flicker against righteous blue.

The oracle leaves turn the wind audible. They filter the dry light and fill it with expectation. Trunks run straight and bare, roughed with age at the bottom, then smooth and whitening up to the first branches. Circles of pale green lichen palette-spatter them. She stands inside this white-gray room, a pillared foyer to the afterlife. The air shivers in gold, and the ground is littered with windfall and dead ramets. The ridge smells wide open and sere. The whole atmosphere is as good as a running mountain stream…

This, the most widely distributed tree in North America with close kin on three continents, all at once feels unbearably rare. She has hiked through aspens far north into Canada, the lone hardwood holdout in a latitude monotonous with conifer. Has sketched their pale summer shades throughout New England and the Upper Midwest. Has camped among them on hot, dry outcrops above gushing streams of snowmelt, in the Rockies. Has found them etched with knowledge-encoded native arborglyphs. Has lain on her back with her eyes closed, in far southwestern mountains, memorizing the tone of that restless shudder. Picking her way across these fallen branches, she hears it again. No other tree makes this sound. The aspens wave in their undetectable breeze, and she begins to see hidden things.

~ Richard Powers, from “Patricia Westerford” in The Overstory: A Novel (April 3, 2018)


Notes:

Sunday Morning


The snarl of saws and feller bunchers, somewhere in the distance. A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

Some days, dawn breaks in Arthurian mists. There are mornings when the chill threatens to kill him, noons when the heat knocks him on his semi-numbed butt. Afternoons so profligate with blue he lies on his back and stares upward until his eyes water. There come mocking and merciless rains. Rain the weight and color of lead. Shy rain, auditioning with stage fright. Rain that leaves his feet sprouting moss and lichen. There were huge, spiked skeins of interwoven wood here once. They will come again.

Sometimes he works alongside other tree slingers, some of whom speak no language he recognizes. He meets hikers who want to know where the forests of their youth have gone. The seasonal pineros come and go, and the hard cores, like him, keep on. Mostly, it’s him and the brute, blank, stripped-down rhythm of the work. Wedge, squat, insert, stand, and boot-tip seal.

They look so pitiful, his tiny Douglas-firs. Like pipe cleaners. Like props for a train set. From a distance, spread across these man-made meadows, they’re a crew cut on a balding man. But each weedy stem he puts into the dirt is a magic trick eons in the making. He rolls them out by the thousands, and he loves and trusts them as he would dearly love to trust his fellow men.

Left alone—and there’s the catch—left alone to the air and light and rain, each one might put on tens of thousands of pounds. Any one of his starts could grow for the next six hundred years and dwarf the largest factory chimney. It could play host to generations of voles that never go to ground and several dozen species of insects whose only desire is to strip their host bare. Could rain down ten million needles a year on its own lower branches, building up mats of soil that grow their own gardens high in the air.

Any one of these gangly seedlings could push out millions of cones over the course of its life, the small yellow males with their pollen that floats across entire states, the drooping females with their mouse tails sticking out from the coil of scales, a look he finds dearer than his own life. And the forest they might remake he can almost smell—resinous, fresh, thick with yearning, sap of a fruit that is no fruit, the scent of Christmases endlessly older than Christ.

Douglas Pavlicek works a clear-cut as big as downtown Eugene, saying goodbye to his plants as he tucks each one in. Hang on. Only ten or twenty decades. Child’s play, for you guys. You just have to outlast us.

~ Richard Powers, from “Douglas Pavlicek” in The Overstory: A Novel (April 3, 2018)


Photo: Biology.unm.edu

Saturday Morning

Many an hour I spent there lying in the grass; it was so quiet and mysterious—the only voices were those of the leaves and the birds. But I never saw the place clothed in such beauty as I did that spring. Like me, the bees had already gone out into the meadow, and now they wove and hummed in and out of the myriad violet flowers which burst open in a blue lustre from grass and moss. I gathered them and filled my pocket handkerchief; it was as if I was enchanted, in the midst of the fragrance and sunlight.

Theodor Storm, (1817-1888) from A Quiet Musician, The Lake of the Bees


Notes: Quote via a-quiet-green-agreement. Photo: Chris A with Field.Always ( Ain, Rhone-Alpes, France)

There’s something you need to hear…

When I needed to escape the digital-utopian future, I’d head up into the hills. I was not, then, particularly attuned to the magic of trees. But it doesn’t take great sensitivity to be stunned into silence by redwoods — the sight, sound, and smell of those forests, which feel to so many people like holy places.

One day, up near Skyline Road, I came across a tree the width of a house and the length of a football field. I would learn later that this single living thing was almost as old as Christianity. It dwarfed every other trunk on that ridge. As I looked at it, I began to realize that all the trees I’d been walking through were in fact no more than a hundred years old. This one tree had escaped the clearcutting that had built and rebuilt San Francisco. And the forest that it came from must have been, compared to the one I was standing in, as the OED is to a pocket dictionary. When I went back down to Silicon Valley that evening, I had the seed for a story…

When a person says, “I live in the real world,” they generally mean that they live in the artificially created social world, the human-made world that is hurtling toward a brick wall of its own making. This is what I’d ask the critics of the literature of extra-human awe: Which is more childish, naïve, romantic, or mystical: the belief that we can get away with making Earth revolve around our personal appetites and fantasies, or the belief that a vast, multi-million-pronged project four and a half billion years old deserves a little reverent humility? …

Tree-consciousness is a religion of life, a kind of bio-pantheism. My characters are willing to entertain a telos in living things that scientific empiricism shies away from. Life wants something from us. The trees say to each of these people: There’s something you need to hear…

A friend came to visit me here in my home in the Smokies. Despite the winter turbulence that whipped the jet stream around like a jump rope, making for 80-degree days in February and polar-vortex March nights 20 degrees colder than average, spring was creeping back in. The first ephemerals were rising everywhere through last year’s leaf litter: hepatica, trailing arbutus, star chickweed, spring beauties. I stopped on the trail where we were walking and pointed out the crown of a maple infused in red, like a blurry watercolor.

My friend, who’d grown up surrounded by these trees, was astonished. “Maples have flowers?”

Yes. They’ve been flowering every spring, for the last hundred million years. They flowered in every year you’ve been alive. And with luck, they’ll flower for a few years yet to come.

~ Richard Powers, excerpts from Here’s to Unsuicide: An Interview with Richard Powers by Everett Hammer (Los Angeles Review of Books, April 8, 2018)

Powers new book: The Overstory: A Novel was published this month.


Photo: imgfave (via goodmemory)

Lightly Child, Lightly.

I think the trees
are firework taxidermy. A steady
reminder of celebration and
light. How quiet. I’m a collaps-
ing house. Come collect me.

Dalton Day, “Stepping Out of Sorrow,” published in Souvenir


Notes:

  • Photo:lichtwelt, Light, 2017
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

 

Oh, if I could be more like a tree on this Sunday morning

See how the trees
Reach up and outward
As if their entire existence
Were an elegant gesture of prayer.
See how they welcome the breath of spirit,
In all its visible and invisible forms.
See how the roots reach downward and out,
Embracing the physical,
The body and bones
Of its soul of earth and stone,
Allowing half its life to be sheltered
in the most quiet and secret places.

Oh, if I could be more like a tree on this Sunday morning,
To feel the breath of invisible spirit
Touch me as tenderly as a kiss on the forehead.
If I could courageously and confidently
Dig down into the dark
Where the ground water runs deep,
Where shelter and sanctuary
Can be had and held.

Ah, to be like a tree
With all its bent and unbent places,
A whole and holy thing
From its topmost twigs
To the deepest taproot
To all the good and graceful
Spaces between.

~ Carrie Newcomer, “To Be Like A Tree” from The Beautiful Not Yet: Poems, Essays and Lyrics


Notes:

 

Sunday Morning

Junipers in the forests outside Warsaw.
I didn’t know that junipers like sand.
They stand, huddled, like secret, silent figures in hoods.
They walk behind us. I turn to look.
They stop in their tracks, like monks.

~ Anna Kamienska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook, trans. Clare Cavanagh from Poetry Magazine, May 1, 2012


Photo: Marek7 with Forest in Kampinos National Park in on the north-west outskirts of Warsaw

Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind.

Sometimes you trip into something, something that is so big, and so right (this Sunday morning), that you don’t want to soil it by sharing a few excerpts. (But I’m going to do it anyway, of course.) I urge you to listen to Krista Tippett’s entire 51 minute interview with Gordon Hempton where the conversation is sprinkled with Hempton’s nature recordings. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, a collector of sound all over the world. You can find the entire transcript and audio recording here: “Silence and the Presence of Everything.” I’ve shared a few passages below:

________

“OK. So I get out of my car, all right? We’ll still hear the pinging of its engine. We’ll hear other cars and other visitors, and we’ll hear the “beep-beep” of our modern world as people are locking their cars and the rustling of our artificial fabrics against our bodies. Some people will be chattering away on cell phones. But then the sound of my backpack goes over my shoulders, and we head off down the trail. And no more than 100 yards along these tall, tree-lined, ferned path with moss drapes that add sound-deadening to the experience, we’ll hear the call-off twitter of a Winter Wren, this very high-pitched twittering sound that might be coming from 100 feet away…And then we’ll hear further away the sound of the Hoh River that drains the Rain Forest echoing off the far side of the valley…And if we were taking this hike in the fall, we would hear the bugling of the Roosevelt elk… Up close, it’s actually quite a guttural, adrenalin-filled assertion of what it means to be male and wild. But when you hear this experience from a couple of miles away, isn’t that amazing? When you’re in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral. […]

Yeah. Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writing of John Muir, which he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat. […]

But I found the sound that I enjoyed most was the sound of the silence in the volcano. The measurement of decibels actually goes into the minus point, but there still is a sense of presence, of where you are. Then once you get over the rim of the volcano, you begin to pick up what I call the mantra of the islands, and that’s the distant beating of that drum called the Pacific Ocean. […]

We’re about to enter into a giant driftwood log. It’s a Sitka spruce log, the same material that’s used in the crafting of violins, and it has a special property where that, when the wood fibers are excited by acoustic energy — in this case, it’s the sound of the ocean itself — that the fibers actually vibrate. And inside, we get to listen to nature’s largest violin. […] [Read more…]

Sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. Repeat, hundreds of times over.

I found that trees are full of sound. Wind reveals the architecture of branches and leaves, and every tree has its own wind sound, emerging from the particularities of its physiology. For example, the Ponderosa pine trees in Colorado sound different from the same species in California. Each has needles adapted to the local environment, so each sounds different when the wind blows. Broad-leaves trees are likewise diverse in their voices. City trees have rumbles of buses and trains running through them, changing the form of their wood. Birds sing from branches and insects gnaw on inner wood. Then there are tree sounds that are too high for our ears, but by listening with sensitive microphones I heard water pulsing through branches and ultrasonic clicks of distress in drought-stricken twigs. These sounds combined with the voices of market vendors working in the trees’ shade, birds singing amid traffic noise, and surf sucking at palm roots on an eroding beach. Sound is a great way into tree lives: it passes around and through solid barriers, revealing what our eyes cannot see.

~ David George Haskell, in an interview by Caspar Henderson titled: David George Haskell recommends the best books on Trees (fivebooks.com, July 13, 2017)


Notes:

  • Other notable statements in this interview by David George Haskell: “Smelling the soil, talking to other people, holding an acorn in your hand, coming to know the sounds of birds and trees: these have great power once we wake to them, partly because they are such multi-sensory activities, engaging mind and emotion… (Yet) Our modern dependence on trees is mostly hidden from our senses. We don’t hear the rain passing through forest canopies on its way to the reservoir. We don’t smell the wood pellets and coal chunks that power our computers and homes. The wood that frames our houses, holds up our furniture, and gives us paper arrives with signs of its ecological history purged. So we imagine that we’ve transcended our ancestors’ close relationship with trees. But this is illusion. There is no good future for Homo sapiens without forests. Yet forests are in crisis. We live in an age of great diminishment. In just the first dozen years of this millennium, 2.3 million square kilometres of forest were lost – cut, burned, drowned, desertified – yet only 0.8 million regrew or were replanted.
  • Photo: François Vigneron with Four in a Square (via Newthom)

 

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