“Finding the Mother Tree”

 

Susan Simard received her PhD in Forest Science and is a research scientist who works primarily in the field. Part of her dissertation was published in the prestigious journal Nature. Currently she is a professor in the department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia where she is the leader of The Mother Tree Project. She is designing forest renewal practices and investigating the ecological resilience of forests and mycorrhizal networks during this time of climate change. 

Susan’s research over the past 30 plus years has changed how many scientists perceive the relationship between trees, plants, and the soil. Her intuitive ideas about the importance of underground mycorrhizal networks inspired a whole new line of research that has overturned longstanding misconceptions about forest ecosystems as a whole (Mycorrhizae are symbiotic relationships that form between fungi and plants. The fungi colonize the root systems of plants providing water and nutrients while the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates. The formation of these networks is context dependent).

Simard discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest. This includes trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones pass from tree to tree through these underground networks. Resources tend to flow from the oldest and largest trees to the youngest and smallest. Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. And if any tree is dying it often sends carbon to its neighbors. 

At this point in time other researchers have replicated Simard’s major findings. Resources do travel among trees and plants via underground networks. Most ecologists also agree that the amount of carbon exchanged among trees is sufficient to benefit seedlings as well as older trees that are injured, entirely shaded, or severely stressed. Most are also in agreement that trees pass nutrients, information, and can support one another. This reciprocity undermines the dogma of individualism and competition for the fittest as the primary driving force of evolution.

  Simard believes that an old growth forest isn’t a group of solitary individuals who tolerate each other and compete for resources. Instead she calls a forest a cooperative system that behaves more like a single organism.  The trees, understory plants, fungi, and microbes in a forest are so intimately connected that some scientists have described them as super organisms. There is conflict and negotiation, reciprocity and perhaps even altruism.  Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks also link prairies, grasslands, chaparral, and arctic tundra, suggesting that life stretches across the entire planet by way of land.

In North America most trees are generalists, forming symbiotic relationships with hundreds of fungal species. In one study an especially old tree was linked to 47 other trees and projected to be connected to at least 250 more. Depending upon the species, mycorrhizal networks supplied trees and other plants with up to 40 percent of the nitrogen they received from the rest of nature, and as much as 50 percent of the water they needed to survive. Simard also found that denuding a harvested forest of all trees, ferns, herbs and shrubs – a common forestry practice – was often harmful to the entire ecosystem.

The language Simard uses when speaking about the complex relationships that occur between the trees and the fungal networks beneath them is a source of contention. For example, Simard uses the word “Mother tree” to describe the oldest, largest, and most interconnected trees in a forest. She uses this phrase to evoke the capacity of trees to share resources and nurture those around them even if they are not kin, although she has also established that trees do seem to favor their offspring.

The idea that trees are social beings – living beings – has profound and urgent implications for how we presently manage our forests.

Plants and fungi oozed out of the ocean onto land somewhere around 400 – 600 million years ago. Plants obtained energy by eating sunlight but they couldn’t extract mineral nutrients from the barren rock. Fungi couldn’t photosynthesize but they could digest rock and transform it into soil, so together, the two formed a partnership and spread across the land. The resulting forests helped create an atmosphere that continues to provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe. 

Forests also respire (breathe) filling the air with water vapor, fungal spores, and chemical compounds that seed clouds with moisture, cool the earth by reflecting sunlight and provide much needed precipitation to inland areas that would otherwise be in a state bordering on drought or worse.

 Additionally, forests store an immense amount of carbon in their leaves and trunks as well as in roots and the soil below. The statistics vary but each year the world’s forests capture at least 24 percent of global carbon emissions. Deforestation diminishes that effect dramatically. When a mature forest is burned or clear -cut the planet loses one of its most natural and effective systems of climate regulation – not to mention the cheapest. 

When colonial peoples came to this country in the 1600’s forests covered one billion acres – close to half the total land mass. By the beginning of the last century ravaged forests were the norm with a third of the forests gone. By the end of the century loggers were forced to replant trees in order to continue to harvest trees. And although clear cutting isn’t as common as it once was it is still practiced on about 40 percent of the land in this country.

When we destroy an old growth forest we collapse a system that is essential for survival. Although young forests now cover parts of the Northeast, less than one percent of old growth forest remains intact. In the entire country we have less than 3 percent of old growth forest left.

In a thriving forest a lush understory captures huge amounts of rainwater and dense root networks provide nutrients and stabilize the soil. Logging disturbs the forest floor increasing the chance of landslides and floods, stripping the soil of nutrients and releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. When soil flows into the rivers and streams it can kill fish and other aquatic creatures not to mention that the felling of trees harms and evicts countless species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

Simard’s research also suggests the crucial importance of leaving seed trees when cutting. When a seed germinates in an old growth forest it immediately taps into an extensive underground community of interspecies partnerships. Conversely, when a plantation of trees is planted after a clear cut there aren’t any ancient root and fungal systems to support the tree. As a result these new trees are much more vulnerable to disease. Simard believes that leaving the mother trees intact will improve the health and survival of future seedlings.

 Simard is also concentrating on how the underground networks could be disrupted by environmental threats like logging as already mentioned, and pine beetle infestations (that are killing western trees in less than four years). She believes the underground networks will survive but whether they will be beneficial to native plants etc remains to be seen.

 One of the fascinating aspects of Simard’s recent research demonstrates that trees who succumb to disease or move Northward during climate warming will continue to send carbon and warning signals to the trees/seedlings of the new species that will replace the original forest. This support facilitates a head start for new species. The only caveat warns Simard is that we must leave the trees that support mycorrhizal networks and other networks that support wildlife in the forest, or the forest will not regenerate.

Susan’s love for trees and lifetime dedication to saving forests began when she was a child who went into the forest to watch her uncle log cedar sustainably. I admire not only her dedication, but also the fact that she refuses to abstract or distance herself from the research she does. After all, it is not education that creates change; the bottom line is that we save what we love.

The next time you are walking by a tree think about the fact that humans have four photo receptors – red, green, blue,  light/dark and trees have eleven. When you are gazing at a tree, it may also be looking back at you!

Postscript: By the time this article is printed Susan Simard’s new book “Finding the Mother Tree” will probably be published, and as a heroine of mine you can be sure I will be one of the first people to read it.

Broken Mothers

I awakened under clouds

feeling respite from fierce

heat in April that

forced maple, birch,

beech, and poplar

 to bud and burst.

  First we planted

 Balsam seedlings;

 He climbed birch

sawed off

 dying trunks,

some broken

beyond recognition,

wreckage from 

the ice storm –

a winter holocaust 

that stole my peace,

my trust in white,

 deep restful sleep.

My body keens 

for the multitude –

 Removing gray birch

dims the memory

of a forest

of downed trees

that lay across

my road –

  Anguish

that buried me.

This is about me

and not the trees,

I think sadly, as

if I could separate

One from the Other…

Our lives are

inextricably entwined.

And so, as each one

comes down,

is sawed and piled up

for firewood, I

feel relief.

Young evergreens

emerge, having 

been protected

by Gray Birch

for all these years…

I take a moment

to give thanks

 for broken “mothers”

who nurture 

New Life. 

Gentle, generous

Living Beings – who

even in their dying

 accept what is.

Witness

The last of the Old Ones in Vancouver…

“then there were those

who went out over unlit hills …

and turned pale at

what they saw” (Merwin)

Witness

I went out over unlit hills

longing for 

the scent of moisture

the ditches were dry

not a frog in sight

cracked earth bore

 chasms too deep

no roots live

without water

 parched soil

shrinks thought

birches bow 

too low

bent and broken

winter sliced

by freeze thaw

and poplars

in desperate hope

throw nourishing catkins 

to the wind

a month before

their time –

  bears and bees

no longer feed

heat forced tender leaves

 burst pale green

under hostile blue.

Nature 

starves under

Fire –

  but Sun

pays scant attention

 demanding  Soul

as well as Body –

Blistering

TorturedGround.

The Professor

He’s out there every morning surveying the feeder. Sitting on his haunches he peers up towards seeds that he cannot seem to reach no matter how many times he scales the baffles. 

I think he’s made of stardust, a magician in disguise.

I watch him ruminate, feeling his thoughts penetrating my own. “There must be a way.” This wily character has bulbous eyes popping out of his scruffy gray head. Curiously, his ears are tipped in white though the rest of his coat is sable. Suddenly a flash – he streaks across the grass, ascends the maple, peers around briefly, and then rushes up the Mother Tree for a different view. He suffers from ADD. Too far to jump. Too high to drop. I can feel his frustration as he sprints towards the feeder, noses the ground and finds one stray seed. Sitting back on his haunches he spies the cardinal feeding just over his head. He scents the ground again. “There must be one more.” Coming up empty, he can’t quite believe it. 

Now he assumes the Professor’s position, leaning back on his haunches, almost rocking, with small hands appealingly clasped in front of him like a prayer. He just sits there with a glazed expression. A meditating Buddha. Well not quite; he’s calculating his next move. 

Sighing, I accept the fact that this guy is smarter than me, and eventually he’ll find a way!

One Year Later

 Last year, at this time I was driving home from NM grateful to be hearing cardinals and seeing red bud trees in bloom, oh so grateful to be returning to the Northeast. I was badly frightened by the specter of a virus that was bearing down on a country that up until this point behaved as if nothing could overcome its hubris, its power, and its addiction to consumerism and wealth.

One year later I learn that I am one of thirty three percent of Americans that have received the vaccine. Other countries are not so fortunate. The virus is still very much with us and it’s mutating and becoming more infectious; many people are refusing to behave as if this threat exists, even as Covid is beginning to spike again across the country. 

In Maine the threat is serious. Every week cases continue to spike. Today, April 5th, there are almost 300 hundred new cases just in this county, and this is a trend that keeps climbing. It is staggering to realize in our area that one out of 22 people is carrying the virus and doesn’t know it. 

Meanwhile the State of Maine has lifted all travel restrictions to support the economy (that seems bent on killing us one way or the other), while also stating that the reason the virus is spiking is because people are traveling more and mutants are more infectious (they don’t mention deadly). I feel as if I am living in a surreal culture composed of humans who no longer have access to common sense.

  When it was time to be vaccinated I was uneasy, certainly not elated. Coming home from the hospital after my second injection, with my young friend I felt woozy like I had after my first shot and wondered if I would become ill. Earlier, I had spoken to my body with compassion, telling her I was sorry that I had to put her through yet another physical invasion by agreeing to inject this deadly virus into my arm.  For the second time in a month she would be forced to fight off infection. 

After my friend left I spent the afternoon in bed. Although I did not feel really ill, I wanted to give my body a chance to rest. The next day the reaction hit with a vengeance and I was ill for three more days during which time I researched second dose reactions for the first time. I have a very sensitive system that responds negatively to medications of all kinds and I had no idea what this virus might do to my body. I had not done this earlier because I didn’t want to go into this troubling situation biased. 

What I learned was that it was mostly women who had the reactions and when I discovered this fact the feminist in me woke up as I recalled that most medications were tested on men rather than women because women’s physical bodies were more complex. Had the same scenario occurred with this vaccine? I didn’t know but suspected it did. If so, we needed to re –test the vaccine with females. Judging by my reaction and those of other women some of us were literally being poisoned by a vaccine whose long-term consequences still remain totally unknown.

I am not suggesting that we not get vaccinated because, of course we ALL must in order to stem the viral tide. What I am saying is that women, especially those with sensitive systems be made aware of complications that might arise.

It’s also critical to understand that being vaccinated does not mean a person will not get this disease. For those of us, like me, with a compromised immune system (because of emphsyma as well as my age) remaining vigilant is a necessity. 

Today, I am reflecting on this past year with Covid. In my case the virus changed little including my fear of it. I am used to being alone – well not quite. I have two devoted dogs and a bird, Lily b, and a very small bubble of friends that I interact with regularly; my young friend is here the most. Need I add he is always masked? During the summer and fall I spent time with others outside, hiked almost continuously, participated in writers Zoom meetings in the evenings, but mostly I took simple pleasure out of being with this piece of earth that I belong to, participating by planting more trees and working in my gardens. 

 December brought a raging ice storm that destroyed more trees on my road and throughout my small forest than I could ever have imagined, creating deep distress. Freeze –thaw periods followed all winter long, further damaging the few young forests that are left in this area. Even now, the ice is still at least three inches thick in places around my house. Until two days ago I couldn’t enter my own woods – first time ever.

 Around the vernal equinox the state began to widen a highway to accommodate those who inevitably brought the virus with them knowingly or unknowingly as they streamed into Sunday River Resort to ski all winter as they do every winter boosting Bethel’s local economy.

 I’m told that our local spring, a precious resource that so many depend on that is located in the midst of the present carnage will not be affected. But since trees have already been taken from all around the spring damage has already been done because trees help purify the water. From what I learned from the town manager the desecration of the trees has only begun and will extend for miles.  In his words “it will only take a year for new foliage to hide the damage.” I imagine this perspective is the dominant one. 

Economic greed defines our culture and Maine is a tourist dependent state so both the masses of incoming people and the State of Maine are equally responsible for the destruction. As for the trees – well, they are expendable and will remain so until until we have used up this “resource” permanently.

Recently I had a disturbing dream:

I have written a poem about hunting and I know that it is good. Then I gradually realize that the hunting doesn’t involve animals.

 It is the trees that are being hunted to extinction.

I awaken in horror. It’s been a hard year permeated with a virus that won’t quit because too many people are too selfish to follow sane rules even when there are some, insane doublespeak, and for me, this state of affairs is coupled with the destruction of beautiful trees, land, and forest in a state that once was so beautiful. It is the latter that is slowly erasing the memory of what used to sustain us, our intimate relationship with the Tree of Life.

Vigil

Roy comes Home

Medicine Wheel

 In the dream I’m creating a ceremony to welcome Roy home – it’s very elaborate – yet fluid – it’s fine when I make mistakes – I am creating the space for his death but also welcoming him home. I am also asking for gifts that are expensive. Someone, I think it’s Roy, says humorously and with kindness, “You don’t want much do you?” I laugh. He is teasing me. I finish the ceremony, and I see Roy in an old dented truck pulling on his ears – he can’t hear me but we have made contact. There is such Joy in his heart that I know All Will Be Well….

 I have this dream on March 26th. When I wake up I don’t know if this dream is precognitive or not. 

Roy, who was 104, had taken a fall and was recovering at the Veteran’s Home. He was due to return home in couple of days. He did come home. A week later he was rushed to the hospital with blood clots in his lungs. When his daughter Mary called me with the news two days ago she had been told that his organs were shutting down.   

That night I put my trust in the dream I had on March 26th, choosing to follow its instructions… Roy’s great love was nature. He found both solace and sustenance there, and like me, he walked the forest alone, so I believed that my little ceremony would please him. We followed the same Muse…

I lit a candle, and scented the air with balsam; I stood under my little niche in the corner gazing up at the Medicine Wheel, called in the four directions, extending my arms, palms open, imagining that I was lifting Roy up in some way, inviting him into this circle. A deep silence penetrated the dark room. I imagined peace, as images of our time together poured through me. The dogs appeared as witnesses, which was their custom. When I sang my little made up song, Sara’s Circle, I invited Roy in for a second time as Lily b joined in. I blessed us all with brook water that I had left in a crystal bowl, water that was left over from a full moon ceremony.  I included Roy in absentia, and then stood there in silence. That’s when I saw the fish rising up around us in a circle. Of course the fish would come! Roy was a dedicated fisherman. After more stillness, I thanked the guardians, opened the circle, and let the candle burn on …

Covid and my last winter in New Mexico had kept me from seeing my friend for the last 18 months. And because he was so deaf I couldn’t talk with him.  

When I returned to the computer words appeared on an add that had popped up in my absence – words that I had never noticed before:

End of life Information.”

Around eight this morning Mary called to tell me her father died in his sleep a little after dawn. She had been with him last night. She told me that he was elated. He told her happily that he would soon be coming home and regaled her with stories, his mind as sharp and clear as ever.

 Roy’s last day ended happily with his daughter’s visit, and he was still telling stories. Parts of the dream remain obscure, but the last lines shine on.

  “All Will Be Well”.  And so it was for him.

April 3rd 2021

I first met Roy in 1988 on the mountain behind my house where he was cutting his field with a scythe. I remember looking around this immaculately kept meadow with a kind of dazed wonder – Oh, how much the land was loved! The feeling struck me with such force that I felt an instant connection to this stranger. Roy became my first friend and now, so many years later, I had a basket overflowing with happy memories… Roy was a historian and a scholar, although he worked in the mill for his entire life. I learned most of the history of this area directly from him. Roy and his wife Lois took me in like an adopted daughter; I celebrated holidays with them, listened to countless stories, his guitar music, laughed at Roy’s quick wit and gobbled down Lois’s apple pies. My animals were always welcome. When my house was being built I showered there routinely, while living in my camp during the colder months. The two stacked my wood for me the year I was swamped while teaching. I had fresh trout for dinner each summer, thanks to Roy’s love of fishing (these gifts continued until he was 102 and couldn’t walk through the woods anymore). The first tree I planted here came from their house as a seedling… I could go on and on.

 Roy stands out in my life as one of the most powerful models of what it is really like to be a good man, a gentle man, not one who has predicated his life on power – Roy understood what love was and demonstrated it by being a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and loyal friend. He loved all animals. Every action he took spoke volumes about his personal integrity. His mind remained sharp and clear throughout his life. Roy would have celebrated his 105th birthday this June. Instead we will have a celebration of his life, outdoors in our world, on this day.

 I will always be proud to call Roy my friend. I loved him.

Powers of Place

(1)

The Earth

was shaped

like a steeple,

a peaked

 conical mound 

rose up out of

a rolling field.

A circle of round stones

painted gray green

by tenacious lichen

graced the crest

of the hill.

Young trees 

were rooted

scattered here

and there…

Peace permeated 

 Powers of Place,

And I breathed in

 Mystery – my story

while gathering

acorns

at my feet.

(2)

When I picked

the cracked shells

I remembered

the little oak

 I grew 

last summer, 

smothered under

piles of winter slash

 that were thrown

over his head.

I hate the idea of

 annihilating

a tender seedling.

 Beginnings of

all kinds must

be deeply held.

I’ll try again

with these

who told time

 by March winds

and the sun’s

intense heat,

 splitting husks

a month early,

obliterating the old clock,

no longer a measure

of seasonal turnings.

 (Viburnum unfurls

 its leaves too,

and Celadine

 is spraying

 sage green).

Pocketing a few

I was mindful

of Roots,

 pure white

specks peeking

out of splits,

protective

 brown casings 

containing all

nourishment

needed for Life –

An Oak Tree “field”

beckons,

  form emerges

 from

“Original Instructions”.

How astonishing!

Someday

 a splendid tree

with a canopy of

leafy hands

will offer

 her acorns

as a gift…

I soaked the seeds

in the dark.

Two days later

I planted all seven,

 covering

them in white

 cloth, dampened 

 under the seed moon’s

 pearl ripened light. 

Roots will

 burrow deep.

It will be weeks

before I meet tiny

pale green shoots,

 to rejoice with, 

weaving the three-

Seeds, me, and

 Powers of Place,

 into One

Enduring

     Story.

Who Was It?

“Who was it, who said, now
you must speak?”

 When I touched

her rough bark

my Witness Tree,

 old mother pine,

burnt my hand.

“Speak of what

you know”

She said.

Death is on the horizon.

Humans will

ride the train

into oblivion.

This is just

the Beginning…

Murdered pine and fir

  wept by the spring.

Crows screeched. 

Old ones continue to fall.

The seed moon is full.

Thousands of Saplings

 lie supine,

dying sticks

torn away from roots

 stacked in obscenely

 neat downed bunches.

Not just here

where crystal spring

 waters

run down a

 mountain to 

quench thirst,

 or to heal,

 but Everywhere.

All trees –

 Living Beings,

 are consigned

to death by

 the Great Machine

of human greed.

“You cannot save them.”

 She said.

(Harsh words,

 accompanied by 

    unspeakable visions,

made it impossible

to turn away from

this year’s equinox turning).

Part 2

If Only For Now…

Trees blown down

 by winter storms

 transform with the

Gift of spring rains –

if only they would come.

Ladies in waiting,

 broken limbs are patient

dreaming of hungry

  bugs and bears.

Mycelial threads

are slow, rising

to the surface.

Break down

 of cellulose

is still ahead.

Only with the rains

will slain

and dying

 trees   

become

 a nursery

rich in nutrients,

supporting

acorns.

seedlings,

mosses,

lichens,

the grist

of life –

if only

for now.

Wild Carbon

 

A Forest Left In Peace

There’s not much carbon in the entire universe. And yet, somehow, this element appeared on earth and from carbon the first plants and trees emerged. This plant emergence began about 450,000 million years ago. This fact might give us pause because it suggests how unique this planet really is in its ability to create and sustain life.

Today we are faced with an unprecedented amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Carbon emissions far exceed the ability of trees and plants to absorb carbon. Carbon emissions raise the earth’s temperature too rapidly. Climate Change is the result, and unlike normal cycles of climate change that stretch over millennia, this time humans have initiated these extreme shifts in the weather. Climate change began with onset of the Industrial age and the rise of technology and today it threatens the fabric that supports all life as we know it. Ice caps melt, land masses sink, fires and droughts erupt throughout the world as the planet continues to heat up.

Ironically, one way to slow Climate Change (and by far the cheapest) is by allowing old forests to survive. In addition to storing carbon old forests build soil, cycle nutrients, mitigate pollution, purify water, release oxygen and provide habitat for wildlife.

We have two sources of carbon sequestration that can never be replaced: peatlands and old forests. 

Mark G Anderson, PhD of the Northeast Wilderness Trust (www.newildernesstrust.com) has this to say about old forests:

 “A long-standing debate over the value of old forests in capturing and storing carbon has prompted a surge of synthesis studies published in top science journals (like Nature) during the last decade.”

What follows are five points that are supported by solid evidence.

We now know that trees accumulate carbon over their entire lifetime. All plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into carbon rich sugars that are then converted to cellulose to create biomass (trunks, bark and leaves of trees), or the cellulose is transferred below ground to feed roots and fungal networks. Over the long lifespan of trees large amounts of carbon are removed from the air and stored in the biomass (or underground). Although tree growth slows over its lifetime there is a corresponding increase in the tree’s total leaf area that allows the tree to store more tree carbon as it ages. At one site, large trees comprised 6 percent of the trees but 33 percent of the annual forest growth. Young trees grow fast, but old trees store a disproportional amount of carbon.

Old forests contain vast amounts of carbon. Up until recently it was believed that old forests ceased becoming carbon sinks, but new research finds that carbon storage increased in most stands more than 180 years old. Thus, old growth forests need to be left intact. This information is particularly important because old forests in the tropics that have acted as long-term net biomass/carbon sinks are now vulnerable to edge effects, logging and thinning, or increased mortality from other disturbances. 

Old forests also accumulate and store carbon in the soil as previously mentioned. Recent studies have shown that the top layers of the soil found in old forests store atmospheric carbon at an astonishingly high rate. Organic soil carbon concentration increases significantly every year. 

Forests share carbon not just among themselves but also between tree species. Recent research made possible by stable carbon isotope labeling indicates that trees interact in complex ways. Studies found that carbon assimilated by spruce was traded with neighboring beech, larch, and pine trees by way of tree roots assisted by mycorrhizal fungal networks, and that these mycorrhizal networks became more connected and took up more carbon as forest succession progressed.

 Almost 24 billion metric tons of carbon could be stored by forests while safeguarding food security and biodiversity. An analysis of 18,507 forest plots in the Northeast found that old forests (greater than 170 years) supported the largest carbon pools and the highest levels of carbon storage, timber growth, and species diversity.  Here we see that recent peer-reviewed science has established that unmanaged forests can be highly effective at capturing and storing carbon.

Mark Anderson concludes “it is now clear that trees accumulate carbon over their entire lifespan and that old, wild forests accumulate far more carbon than they lose through decomposition and respiration, thus acting as carbon sinks. This is especially true when taking into account the role of undisturbed soils only found in unmanaged forests. In many instances, the carbon storage potential of old and wild forests far exceeds that of managed forests. In the Northeast, a vigorous embrace of natural climate solutions to mitigate global overheating does not require an either/or choice between managed and unmanaged forests. Conserving unmanaged wild forests is a useful, scalable, and cost-effective complementary strategy to the continued conservation of well-managed woodlands”.

What we do need to do is to find ways to reduce unnecessary forest devastation by implementing kinder ways of logging our mountains. We could also curtail unnecessary forest edge destruction. A perfect example is what’s happening to the trees on Route 26. Is the widening of the road in Bryant Pond to service more traffic, increased speed, more people streaming in to the area really necessary when so many trees are being sacrificed?

The Death of Spring

Visioning the Future…

The spring equinox marks the change in seasons – “unhinging one from another” in unpredictable ways. A door might open, or perhaps a frog decrees yet another steep descent into the well… the latter has been the case with me. 

Spring is historically a time of rising waters. Plentiful and soothing rainfall raises fog from the lowlands to melt the last of the tired snow – a turning I used to long for. 

This year I feel dread. High winds, thin dry air, deep blue skies and summer-like temperatures replace the precious rain that does not fall. Brooks are low; ditches are dry. The trees can’t take another year of drought. Too many are already diseased.

On the morning of the spring equinox I was unable to dip my pitcher into the brook for the water I wanted to acknowledge this spring turning because the remaining ice/snow, a result of winter of freeze –thaw, has made it impossible to get down there; and the brook is pitifully low. Both, for the first time ever. Crows were screeching in the trees. Squirrel chatter was drowning out the songs of nesting birds. 

Deciding that I must have water that came directly from the mountain I climbed into my car to visit our local spring.

 To my shock I missed the turnoff. Confused and dis-oriented by the loss of trees I had used as markers for 40 years I drove by the spring in a blur and had to turn around. Distracted by the masses of traffic and severed limbs that lay in bunches on the ground on either side of me I almost missed the spring for a second time after reversing directions.  Stopping to fill my container in a daze, I left without being able to comprehend what I had actually seen.

I had a crystal bowl waiting for the water at home. After filling the container to the brim I gently lay my hand on its surface, remembering that touching the water with gratitude, love, and appreciation allowed beautiful patterns to appear on a molecular level. I sprinkled water around the house, blessing my animals, my bird, and myself. My longing for rain was palpable.

 Later that day two of us honored the vernal equinox by gathering here to express our gratitude for this precious element, water, acknowledging that Water is Life while offering our intentions and releasing what we no longer needed  – a simple fluid ceremony that allowed us to honor and participate with nature in the turning of the wheel towards rain, late spring blooming, leaf out (we hoped), and summer’s light. 

The next morning I awakened knowing that I had to go back to the spring to witness what had occurred there. When I opened the door to leave the cardinal was waiting for me. I offered my usual morning greeting for the second time that day wondering why he was still here (every morning I take in his birdfeeder after he eats because of squirrels). As I stepped out the door the cardinal began to make a rapid series of sharp discordant chip –like sounds, sounds I have never heard a cardinal make before. As I walked up the hill he followed me flying from tree to tree. The loud chips sounded frantic; he was warning me, but I had no sense that he was telling me not to go.

Cardinal was my witness, just as I would be for what happened at the spring… Nature always reciprocates.

With a heavy heart I left him by the garage door and drove by the little town of Bryant Pond. The old trees in front yards had been slaughtered and lay in huge piles on the ground. I gasped. Driving further on I slowed to see pile after pile of big trees and slender young saplings that had been cut by the Great Machines strewn everywhere. Nothing had been spared in this massacre. Once again I drove by the spring, missing it for the same reason I had the day before. I pulled onto the narrow shoulder of the road to snap pictures of the devastation that stretched ahead as far as I could see. I learned later that the road crew would continue its work as far as North Pond, still miles away down the road. I reversed directions again to finish documenting the damage and came home. Although I posted the images publically they went unnoticed.

The day before I had asked to release my anger around the slaughtering of our trees. I kept returning to the image of the slain saplings… My anger had vanished, but in its place I had been given a terrible vision – What I had just witnessed I would witness again and again until “the end” whatever that meant. Man’s treatment of the trees old and young could not be stopped.Numbed, I walked out into the blue day wondering how I could accept what I had just learned. I had fallen deep into the well and it was dry.