A tree can take a decade to spread its arms in a morning yawn. Only rocks live longer. But trees are way more mischievous.
I stumbled recently upon a tree stump, clearly cut with human tools. The stump, however, had been split many years earlier by what must have appeared to the then-seedling, to be a huge wedge of sandstone, like a steel wedge placed by a woodsman preparing a cord of winter heat.
The story of the original encounter between the young seedling and the rock is long lost. Was the rock there first, to cause the developing sapling to grow around it? Or did it maneuver into position on a streamlet of spring melt pushing from farther up the mountain?
What remains after what appear to be decades of arboreal growth were ended by a logger’s saw are two stumps conjoined at their mutual root. The remaining clues to the root’s story are the contours of the wood that perfectly match those of the dividing wedge, concave where the stone is convex so that one side of the rock appears embraced by its respective wooden arm.
The weight of the rock bearing down between the desiccated arms has split the root, laying nearly bare its subdermal region, the bark traded away for a layer of lichen as the tree gives what is left of itself to the soil from which, in its glory days, it had anticipated its growing majesty.
The rings that would have allowed mortal measurement of the tree’s age and living conditions have evaporated, leaving behind only the skeleton and myriad tiny holes, remnants of the channels through which once flowed the sap that nourished the leaves that exchanged airborne carbon dioxide for the oxygen required to sustain most of the species wandering across the surface of the planet the tree had shared.
I have long wondered how it would be to listen to the stories trees could tell. I am heartened by scientists beginning to discover and translate the arboreal language that has long been known only to the trees and the fungi growing at their feet. Maybe one day …
But the afternoon was getting late. Threats of a rainstorm had once again come to naught, only hinted at by a few drops of falling moisture. The light, however, was on the wane, prompting me to abandon my thoughts of further exploration and point the Subaru off the mountain.
About halfway down, I encountered rain the force of which increased in ferocity as my elevation decreased. At the bottom of the hill, I turned left toward home, and toward a huge oak blocking my way. I went back to the road I had just come down and discovered another oak had uprooted to prohibit my escape in that direction.
Rule Number One of Wandering in a Wood that has turned dark and ugly: Don’t. Hunker down and stay put. Time will either bring help, or light by which to find your way out.
But the trees were satisfied with their mischief and wind-making – have you ever known the wind to blow when the trees are still? They relented, and I soon heard a chainsaw working its way toward me. The sound of the saw turned into a pair of pickup trucks, and word that I could drive out the path the truck drivers had cut through the downed trees.
As I drove home, redirected occasionally by detour signs and flashing emergency vehicle lights, I thought certainly I could hear the trees chuckling at the fellow in the little green car who almost had to stay the night among the pesky pranksters of the forest.
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