(Drafted 3/19/19 but never finished or posted)
Watching the Moon become full. Two days to the Vernal Equinox and yet the storm clouds are moving in for a few days of rain. Will I miss the Super Moon again? Most of the stars are dimmed or invisible with the Full Moon’s approach. Tonight I went out and gazed into the night sky. Even Orion’s Belt is dimmer, barely there except there is a a bright star about 30 degrees away in the SW sky; I wish I knew what shines so bright, even as it’s dying for they say the twinkling stars are really what we see of their light as they die.
I am grateful for the moonlight cast over the snow, a vision I will always carry with me no matter where I am in this world. I wonder what it would look like to see our Sun and Moon from another vantage point on another planet?
A lone pine tree is a black silhouette and I wait for the snow to melt so that I can walk out to it and smell the bark. If it is a ponderosa pine its bark will smell like vanilla. If not, then maybe it is a Jeffrey Pine. The quaking aspen on our property, only a few, are still too buried in snow drifts for me to reach but I want to walk up and feel them, too. Aspen are interesting because they seem to belong to one clone, one root system. There is a vast network of aspen, the heaviest living organisms on Earth, located in Utah. It is called the Pando and is made up of thousands of aspen, all interconnected.
We are all interconnected in this world, whether we know or believe it. Trees communicate among themselves through networks of roots. They signal to others of their kind in various ways; sometimes it is through fungal filaments or roots. When harm is near, e.g., that caused by animals foraging on their leaves, they can send out a signal to others of their kind to generate more toxic chemicals in the leaves and thus make them unpalatable to the deer or insects eating them. There are “mother” trees, too, that nurture the young saplings growing nearby. And there are those downed logs called “nurse” tree stumps or logs. Their slow decay provides nutrients and living spaces for other creatures as well as the seeds that sprout up from the rich loam. We don’t think of trees as having consciousness like us. Perhaps it is a different form of awareness, not consciousness as we humans understand it, but nonetheless an awareness that is active and present at all times. The trees “know” how to protect themselves. They are connected in ways we don’t even begin to understand but are learning.
I recently read a fascinating book about the hidden life of trees, about their interconnectedness and active “knowing” of what is a danger to their survival. It’s left me thinking a lot about trees, the few trees that we have here on the property. I can’t wait for the drifts of snow to melt and finally make it possible for me to approach them in an effort to understand them. The quaking aspen and the conifers are all I have to study, but there are cottonwoods down the road and pinion pines I would need to hike to or climb through some barbed wire fences to reach.
When I was about 14 I wrote an essay in school about how I wanted to be a tree, if I had to be something other than human. I believed then that a tree would be a witness as well as a survivor. That is what I have become. My life history includes so much uprootedness and as young as I was then I longed for roots and a solid trunk to hold me in one place as the world changed around me. I believed in a tree that would outlast all assaults of weather and civilization. I wanted durability in the face of all circumstances of change.
Now we are almost in June, weeks away from the Summer Solstice. The snow took many months to melt, well into April. We experienced intermittent snowstorms and hailstorms throughout April and May. It has been very cold and stormy for May. Today I saw a magnificently dramatic skyscape of all kinds and colors. Some clouds were white as the snow recently deposited on the nearby mountain ridges behind us. Other white clouds were suffused with light from behind them that made their borders gleam like silver. There were huge billowing white cumulus clouds and dark grey densities harboring hard rain. These different clouds hung in the sky in layers that were vertically three-dimensional. I drove into a sudden, quick downpour that I would call a “gully washer” if I still lived on the plains of the midwest. All this rain has greened the valley and ranges. The fire-charred slopes from last October are now covered in tall spikes of grass, a contrast to the sad presence of burned shrubs and trees, so many burned black.
As for stars, I am disappointed that I have only caught one Full Moon in passing all these months since January. The clouds seem always to be here. Eventually, the storms will end and we will be in the heat of summer that will turn most of this green to brown. So much vegetation, though, is kindling for the fires we fear out here, those caused by lightning strikes, and we will hold our collective breaths in hope that the fires don’t come so close again. But there will be fires and as long as the weather is hot and dry, we will be on guard. The West has burned so much the past few years and now we wait for another fire season, hoping we are not choked and cloaked by smoke for weeks as we were last year, too. All this burning, all this heat, unprecedented aberrations of serial tornadoes and epic flooding is more than a “sign”: it is the reality of our planet’s power that we are all not invulnerable to a changing climate and the perils of over-population and imbalances created by humans who think we can control everything. Adaptation will also bring changes already underway but we don’t yet see the wholeness of complex systems on the verge of collapse, including our own.
I grieve for the accumulating deaths of whales and young sea lions along the coast of Northern California, the deaths of thousands of penguins in Antarctica, and yet another massive die-off of tufted puffins: these creatures have died from starvation because their ocean foods are either gone or have moved into different climates for survival. I grieve for the refugees, the human migrations of people desperate to survive yet starving, too, be it from weather catastrophes or, more often, the political catastrophes and wars created by mankind. I grieve the many trees now standing tall, thin and black on the slopes of Lamoille Canyon and the nearby Ruby Mountains. And this grief is with me always even when I strive for joy.
Yes, there are many cycles of life and death on this planet, and many signs of resilience and resurrection at times in the natural world. But, it is also true that extinction is greater than resilience or resurrection when the resources to sustain all that I have named have disappeared. The trees and stars have endured without us despite the damage we have caused and continue to cause. Always is not forever and our world is being altered in ways that I may not experience the full impact of with my remaining years, but what of my children and others? Will they have trees and stars or will life become unbearably reduced and impoverished beyond current comprehension or imagination so that survival has no room for the nuances of a natural world?
I am a witness to all that I see and value despite all that I see that is awful beyond this green valley and snow-capped ridges. I covet as much of the trees and stars that I can touch, smell, watch and witness, here where I live, because there will be a time when I don’t have these as close and I want to remember what trees and stars have told me. The trees and stars are where I send out my roots now.
NOTE: I edited the 3/19 content and then added in more today, 5/29/19; I don’t think there is too much difference in observations/wondering made several months ago and now.