I think I started noticing trees when I lived in Alaska. I wrote a weekly column which my faithful companion, a Bald Eagle named “J Edgar,” delivered from our home in a hollow log to the editor of the community newspaper. Readers were not surprised “The Ol’ Tundra Stomper” (“Tundra Stomping” being Alaskan for “back country hiking”) had an eagle partner.
The most notable thing about our abode was the distinct lack of trees where we lived, much less one large enough when hollowed to be home to a woodsman and his winged friend.
That was about the same time I “met” J.R.R. Tolkien, and began to learn about the secret lives of trees. It turned out, trees actually are Ents that have slowed down so much they have taken root and become trees.
Treebeard was the elder Ent of Tolkien’s tale, described by a friend and fellow wanderer as “the long-talking, slow-walking, wooden-whiskered drip-dry cave dweller.” The name became part of the name I used on the freewheeling, sometimes outlaw, Citizens Band radio communications system of the mid-1970s.
That was slightly less than 50 years ago.
Fifty years ago – about four years before Alaska became one of my stops – I had been married about a year, and on deployment with the U.S. Navy in Europe, playing grownup (read “more expensive then when I was 12”) cops and robbers with the Russian navy. One of my favorite songs that year was Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”). I had no idea what it meant.
Not coincidentally, 50 years ago marked the year President Richard Nixon signed an executive order establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. His signature was largely in response to a growing, loudly vocal citizenry demanding clean water and air. Nixon, who some people thought was as close to a dictator as the nation had been to that point, created the EPA in December, 10 months after the first Earth Day, and nearly a decade after Rachel Carson lit the fuse on the environmental movement with a book named “Silent Spring” – in which she described the way the insecticide DDT and other manmade poisons were good at killing mosquitos and millions of feathered critters.
I knew about Carson’s book, published three years before I graduated from high school. It was many more years before I read it.
Treebeard had a young sidekick, Quickbeam, younger and over-hasty Ent, always in a hurry, always a renderer of rapid verbosity spoken, often without appropriate thought. Young folks are like that.
I was raised on the shore of a 500-acre lake, luckily not where DDT was sprayed to kill mosquitos. I swam in the lake with Common loons and beaver in the spring-fed water of that pond, and wandered in the woods around it. I have come to realize one of the most unappreciative groups of people are those who have been born and raised with something.
Along the way, if we are lucky, we learn the value of what we had – clean water and air, for instance, sorely lacking downwind of coal-fired electricity plants.
There is an old oak near where I like to walk in the evening. Great arms with conveniently located woodpecker holes, and a nest of leaves up high in a fork to keep squirrels warm and out of the way of hungry Red-shouldered hawks. Fifty years ago, the old oak stood there, lean and supple, watching woodchucks till the pasture and humans build farms. Still it stands, watching my haste, reminding me I am yet a youngster and there is much I have to learn.