They were dead. Or dying. Two crab apples that had been strangled by vines. A great old dark cherry, standing astride our back woods, that had been riddled by insects and then jackhammered by woodpeckers and sapsuckers for so many years that its insides had been hollowed out. Still, I hated to see them go. They’d been home to who knows how many generations of birds and squirrels. Every winter the deer made a pilgrimage to scavenge for fruit at the foot of the crab apples. They’d been living on our property far longer than we had and were a part of the spirit of the place. I’ve long believed in the secret lives of trees. As a child, moving to a new town where I had no friends, I turned to the trees on our property for companionship — and found it there, in the quiet fragrant shadows under the hemlocks. There’s more and more evidence that trees communicate, sending signals through underground networks, alerting each other of drought or disease or insect attacks. They share water and nutrients and sun. When two trees are closely connected, writes the German forester and renowned tree expert Peter Wohllben, it’s often the case that “when one dies, the other dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”
I took the photo above from beneath an old maple, one of the trees we had taken down a few days ago. This was its view for many years before it was ever mine. And here’s a poem about trees by our current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Born in Tulsa Oklahoma, she’s a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and draws from an ancient tribal sense of oneness with the natural world.
I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree —Sandra Cisneros
Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—
Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—
Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—
Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark
Between sunrise and sunset—
I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—
What shall I do with all this heartache?
The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—
I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:
Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge. . .
To drink deep what is undrinkable.