A Learned Appreciation
I see a forest in two very different ways. Firstly, it is a tranquil break from the chaos of my life away from the forest, an arena into which the stresses of a suburban existence cannot enter. Then I acclimate to the realm of new sounds and visual stimuli, absent of any metallic
shine or mechanical clank. I take deeper breaths and my eyes stretch wider than the slits they were held to outside of the green canopy in the harsh, fluorescent indoors or the shadeless, paved swaths. I start to see a great war as old as life on earth. I see a war with the greatest battles and the greatest heroes. These battles are not fought over money, power, or glory but resources. This war is what captures me. My entire capacity for thought and attention is captured by how the natural world trades, balances, and steals the budget of sunlight, water, and nutrients. The forest is the greatest story ever written, only it seems very few have taken the time to learn her language.
Staring into the deep, rich, dank earth below my feet, I attempt to view the world beyond my own eyes ability. As my focus blurs from putting my face too close, my imagination replaces the blanks with my dreams of the realm beneath me. I try to hear what my ears cannot detect, the tumultuous roar of invisible creatures muted by their own minuteness and the thick layer of themselves making up our worlds crust. Looking down I feel as I imagine a root does, low, wide,
full. Looking up I am the longleaf pine, skinny, free, exposed, and hungry, holding on with its toes curling into the rocks and clay. With the wind through our hair I wonder if she is ever worried of her roots giving in to the constant current, I am, but she knows something I don’t for
every inch she reaches for the heavens she digs ever deeper. She is prepared for this static life, I am not. I am a part of the nomadic band of surface dwellers born to run not to sit and grow. My toes cannot go that deep no matter how much I would love to join her. This partition became so not in a great schism but in every mutation made to our cells since we were both an organism neither of us would recognize.
I love to think how insanely small the chances are that anything is the way it is in a forest, the number of risks taken, the number of evolutionary leaps necessary, it amazes me. I could never completely imagine the unending list of minute components which converge to create a single Oak, all of which shifting and adapting to preserve itself. I love to think about how every part of the ecological story is just that, a story, continually being written, edited. A branch, for example, changing its relationship with the tree it was born out of. At first it is dependant on the parent and then fighting it, surging above to steal the precious light, following its genetic destiny to become the hegemonic conqueror it was born to be. When the parent tree dies the opportunist
makes itself the new king of the plot. It is a battle a different speed than ours. Instead of days and weeks, their battles take years, centuries, millenia. We only get to see the single frame but through it we can try to decipher the paths taken and knowledge gained in the thousands of years the forest has been there and the millions of years it took to get there. I want to learn as much as I can about this story and what role I play in the great web.
When I sit staring into a wall of the perfectly insane, cohesive blanket of green I study it in the attempt to funnel the intricate biological relationships into the comprehensible rules I’ve
acquired from books I’ve read or lessons I’ve been taught. These books and lessons, while I love them, aren’t exhaustive and so I read more. Each author proposes new rules based off new stories of forests I can only see in my head and I compare their observations to the mental notes I take on the trees I visit each morning between my house and school. When there are gaps between my observations and those I’ve read of and my rules don’t suffice or I cannot reason one myself, I
find my next book or ask another question. It is a continuous translation between the forest and us. People make so little sense to me, it is only the forest who can pull me back together and I want to lessen my debt to her through the study and understanding of her involuntary genius.
I believe in the power of observation and a learned appreciation.