11 – a bit about trees

Trees were ubiquitous on my trip.  They make up the forests around the river, and lean over it, more and more until they fall in.  Countless plants and animals make them their home.  They made my trip special in so many ways.

And despite the wilderness feel of my trip, they’ve been cut down around us to the point where only a few small tracts of old growth remain in the Northeast.  The great forests nearby are surrounded by much larger suburbs, and none is old growth.

The suburbs have magnificent single trees in yards and cleared parks.  With space around them, they really expand into great specimens.  But these trees are solitary.  The forests are lost with development, and the new forests are a ways yet from the rich heritage of large old growth expanses.

It’s in the great forests where I feel the richest life.  They have their own rhythms and qualities that have evolved physically and spiritually over untold millions of years.  Sadly, we’re strayed a long way from understanding their true value and majesty.

I came across a perspective a few years ago about trees.  Some ancient cultures and sections of modern science say that hundreds of millions of years ago there was too much carbon dioxide in the air for mammals to thrive.  Over a great period of time, an untold number of trees and plants absorbed our atmosphere’s carbon and stored it.  When they perished they were covered by successive trees and plants – in forests, swamps and other biomes.  Eventually, geologic forces compressed and moved these carbon deposits deep below the ground, transforming them into oil, gas and coal.  Over a great period of time the air changed.  Mammals, and recently humans, were able to thrive.

There are two things that humans are doing now to reverse this.  We are cutting down forests at an alarming rate.  The great filters and collectors of carbon dioxide are being significantly reduced in number.  Just as significantly, we are going through great efforts to unearth those ancient interred carbon deposits and burn them, releasing them back into the atmosphere in a geological blink of an eye.  A process that took hundreds of millions of years to bring about is being rapidly reversed from both sides – capture and storage.

Trees have been of service to us in ways and to an extent that are hard to fathom.  Yet we cut them down, and by burning fossil fuels we undo their work.  Still though, incredibly, through all this, I don’t feel they are angry at us.  That’s a lot of grace to have in the face of a chainsaw, especially when you’ve, in part, made the existence of humans possible.

The truth is that humans are going at it full tilt, altering our world.  And we’re simply not there in understanding the repercussions of our actions nor even having interest in understanding.  Our super-efficient abilities have raced ahead of our spirituality and self-awareness.

Yet I have to ask, is this too part of a grand design akin to what the trees around us have done?  Is there purpose and possibly grace in our rapid self-destructive mess, in our radical transformation of the world?  Just what is behind what humans are up to?

In a curious way, I think the forests know much more about what’s happening then we do.  Especially the old growth forests.  I believe they understand and have perspective about our arc.  And where we are in it now.  I hope I’m open enough to hear what they have to say.  I’m certainly interested.

Author: paddlingthepassaic

Architect, husband, father, outdoorsman, tango dancer, tai chi-er and cook. paddler too :)

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