Lessons from the Mother Tree

Last night I was reading Forest Scientist Susanne Simard’s new book “Finding the Mother Tree”. She was writing about how uncanny it was that her personal life has paralleled that of trees, the forests, the plants, the fungi, the mycorrhiza (underground networks). “There should be a special word for the type of mourning you know is to come,” she remarks with reference to the catastrophic loss of our woodlands. Suzanne has been studying the way forests communicate and exchange resources above and below ground for more than thirty years without being able to shift the way our forests are being treated by the public. Clear cutting continues to ravage the earth.  

This weaving of Nature’s ways through human lives has also been my life experience, although I am a naturalist and not a scientist. (I capitalize the word “nature” to accord her the Sovereignty that is missing because most humans see Nature as a “resource” to be used – not a Living Being). I take note of the fact that so many of these tree advocates are women.

 As a naturalist I observe and listen to Nature by paying close attention to weather patterns, to flourishing or withering leaves, bowed or broken trees, to wind, to parched ground, to birds, to animals, to water, to fire, water, earth and air, and by being emotionally present to whatever is happening in my own backyard while scanning earth and sky for ‘signs’ of what’s to come. I receive information if not through a bird sighting, a porcupine, a clump of moss, a dying tree, lack of rain, or by walking in a bear’s tracks then answers come through dreams. For months now my dreaming body has been forecasting the immanent loss of our Maine forests.

 Because there is a collective level attached to dreaming I believe these vignettes also involve the future of all life, as we know it. Most people refuse to contemplate that an earth losing its forests to greed and overpopulation will eventually lead to an inability to breathe and the death of most sentient creatures, trees, and plants. Ecological Species Collapse and Climate Change seem abstract or non-existent to so many. A few like Eileen Crist warn that we will have lost more than half of the non – human species on earth by the end of this century.

 As Susanne writes, “I was born to the wild. I come from the wild. I can’t tell if my blood is in the trees or if the trees are in my blood”. I feel much the same. As far as I can tell I belong to the trees, the forest, clear waters, to animals, and to rain. As the relentless drought saps the life force out of the trees and flowers, I listen to the whine of giant yellow buncher machines (run by men) that continue to rape the last of our forested land. I want to curl inward like a bear choosing sleep to survive the ‘winter’. But I cannot because it is my job to witness. Thus, I am living through a grieving process so monumental that few can imagine. As the poet Rilke states, “ Now you must go out into your heart as onto a vast plain. Now the immense loneliness begins”. As the trees fall, the climate warms, the animals, birds, and waters disappear I feel like I am losing the will to live.

Too many losses seem to have emptied my life of meaning.

 A few weeks ago on the anniversary of the day I buried my brother’s ashes I was down by the brook visiting his spirit at Trillium rock. I was sitting on a little bench that my dad once fashioned reliving the day I brought my brother’s ashes ‘home’, gazing at the unfurling wild trillium I planted in the crevice to mark his gravesite by the brook. This is a place my brother would have loved because we spent our childhood in the woods playing in/around streams and marshes. Davey’s soul finally came to peace here as his favorite bird, the Red tailed hawk, watched over him.

Every year I re-imagine what it would have been like to spend my life with this little brother I so adored. Davey was more than a sibling to me; he was the male counterpart of myself. When I lost my fleet footed brother I lost a self and an internal sense of personal power. I have never recovered either.

 Men with guns moved in instead.

For many years I searched for my brother in others, gravitating towards anyone who seemed to love some aspect of Nature. Some loved animals, others trees, wildflowers, bears, or some other aspect of the natural world but no one loved them all… not like he did. I no longer seek him in others, accepting the fact that my brother was unique, that we shaped each other’s lives as children/adolescents and that I lived on for both of us. I became a fierce defender of all Nature writing my way through my own hell. I will die this way.

After spending quiet time at Trillium Rock I started up the hill. Suddenly, I was possessed by words so shocking that I almost collapsed: I’m so glad Davey’s dead.  Living with the horrors of Biodiversity collapse and Climate Change would have killed this most sensitive of male souls, this son of the Great Mother, a young man who had no use for power. Finding home in Nature, he was Earth’s lover, content to be part of the whole. A man like this has no place in a culture that predicates itself on power, vengeance, violence and greed. As the truth sunk in I recalled the words he had written in his journal so very long ago. “My sister is the survivor”. He was right.

Until now.

Then I remembered what Suzanne Simard had written. Regardless of outcome she would continue her life’s work to save the forests she loved, for them, for her daughter, and for herself. If Suzanne could make this choice after a lifetime of   research predicated on her own heartbreak, then so could I.

At this very moment few drops of rain splashed over my face, or perhaps they were tears.

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