Trees. Bees. A flirting bird.

As morning rituals go, sipping coffee and reading are a constant, sometimes following meditation, sometimes a meditation of its own. Autumn and winter I have my indoor perch. Springtime and summer find me on my deck.  This week has me caught up in The Quantum and the Lotus, as perfect a follow-up as it gets to Richard Powers’s The Overstory.  It’s a brilliant novel and not the first time I’ve been awed by the author.  Anyone who can integrate a knowledge of physics and music the way he does in both The Time of Our Singing and The Goldbug Variations has my attention.  Anyone whose prose is lush and poetic gets right to my writer’s heart.

The interconnectedness of things, with its Buddhist undertones, is at the heart of his latest novel, so why should it surprise me that the book now calling out to me is a dialogue between a Buddhist monk and an astrophysicist born into a Buddhist family?

Hard not to marvel at the way the mind works.

Hard not to smile when distraction takes the form of a bird call. It’s a very particular call, a two-note flirtation. I can ‘t see the bird, and that’s probably his point. But my need to identify him has me searching the Internet.  This little bird, apparently a Black-capped Chickadee, issues a mating call that’s as close as it gets to what we think of as a catcall. How is it that the two-tone harmony enchants me when it’s coming from the bird and irritates me when I hear it from a man?

This particular chickadee appears to be perched somewhere in one of my Locust trees. Barely two weeks ago this Black locust was dripping with clusters of fragrant white flowers that had me realizing there were more trees of this variety on my property than I was ever aware of.  In the cyclical way that Mother Nature works, this may have been a particularly abundant year for those flowers. Or maybe attention to my surroundings is becoming more fine-tuned. Part of my motivation for leaving the city years ago to take up residence in the exurbian world was to be able to tell one tree from another. Sometimes local friends give me answers. Sometimes I resort to Google. Oak trees are easily identifiable but now I take pride in singling out a Hickory, an Elm, a Linden. A Black locust whose flowers fill the air in a way that almost intoxicates me.

The flowers have dropped but now I have my wild roses, another bit of flora I needed help identifying. For my first years up in Northern Westchester there were no wild roses on my property though I’d be captivated by the sight and scent of them on my walks. One spring just a few years back they landed on a Barberry bush alongside my driveway. That’s what they do, attach themselves wherever they see fit.   And that’s what I love about them most, besides their fragrance.

I’m not by nature a gardener but I do have a beautifully evolving landscape, a product of my husband’s vision, coupled with a gardening guru who does her magic. When he sees bees hovering around the Catmint my husband is happy. Doesn’t matter whether Einstein ever really said we’re doomed if bees disappear from our world; what matters is that enough people, including my husband, know there’s wisdom to this prophecy.

“A forest knows things,” says a central character in The Overstory. “They wire themselves up underground. There are brains down there, ones our own brains aren’t shaped to see. Root plasticity, solving problems and making decisions. Fungal synapses. What else do you want to call it? Link enough trees together, and a forest grows aware.”

Even if I grapple with comprehending a world in which everything I see and touch exists as an independent, immutable thing in contrast to a reality premised on interdependence, the combined wisdom I glean from a great novelist, a Buddhist monk, and an astrophysicist lead me in the direction of knowing things we don’t know we know.

Then there’s Shel Silverstein: “Once there was a tree. . . and she loved a little boy.”

The sound of one tree falling

I love taking pictures of trees, most often in autumn and winter.  Watching leaves turn a glorious riot of color before they drop to the ground is a gift I never tire of. But there’s something even more compelling when they’re gone, and every knot on every tree trunk, every crooked limb, shows itself.  Until snow comes, there’s no hiding from a sense of feeling exposed.

A few years back, we had a surprise snowstorm on Halloween.  Tree branches snapped. Entire trees toppled, this one across my driveway in the middle of the night.  Nature has her own way of pruning. I didn’t hear a thing.

Gardeners have their way of pruning, too, and I marvel at the precision with which a tree is taken down.  It takes a certain kind of fearlessness (coupled with skill) to be up in a tree, sawing away while helpers are on the ground, directing a branch with ropes.  The saw makes for a very grating noise, yes; then comes the thud.

The view from my kitchen deck is even more open now that the gorgeous ash tree I’ve photographed more than once over the years is gone. I take no credit for the way the light just happened to hit it on a day in late August. Even more mysterious is how turning it into my iPad wallpaper forever gave it a screenshot date. The original photograph is missing and I made a point of capturing newer images of that favorite tree, even if they don’t quite measure up. Maybe there’s a message here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These days have me hearing trees falling, groaning under the weight of a planet in distress. I spend a lot of time trying to reassure my daughter that all is not lost. Things change. The profit motive (not to mention the vindictive behavior of the psychopath-in- chief) that underscores all that’s being done to undermine the environmental progress we’ve made will give way to a stronger, sounder resistance.

A landscape filled with trees is riddled with metaphor. Light bends leaves, deep, sinewy roots are what keep a tree standing.

Look hard enough and you see trees doing things.

Leaning on one another. . .

Or looking more and more like the terrain in Stranger Things.

This morning was filled with mist and the chill of missing sunshine, neither of which keeps me from walking.

 

On the way back I decided it was time to take a photo or two of the space left by the majestic ash—which calls to mind a parable as wise as it is touching.  Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree takes a boy from innocence to old age in his relationship to a tree who (physically and metaphorically) gives pieces of herself in response to his needs. He swings from her branches, sleeps in her shade; she lets him cut branches when he needs to build a house and her trunk when he wants a boat in which to sail away.  In the end, when he’s old and tired and simply wants a place to sit and rest, she invites him to do just that on all that’s left of her.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to one more tree, dreamlike in its artfulness, that gets pride of place on the redesigned Home page of my website. Please take a peek if you haven’t already. Then consider the serendipity that brought me this Counting Crows cover of a Joni Mitchell song with these words:

They took all the trees
and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half to see ’em 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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