January 22, 2020

The Tree and Me

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Trees are important.

They’re not merely photosynthesis in action although we certainly depend on the oxygen they produce from the waste product we exhale, carbon dioxide.  We tend to ignore that symbiosis while heating our homes, building furniture, boats, garages, houses and innumerable other things with their strength.

Amazingly, their contributions to humanity go far beyond even that.  Trees are vital, visual reference points to our own internal coordinate systems.  We’re not consciously aware of them while we navigate by and around them.

Reversing an old adage, far too often we don’t see the trees for the forest.  But that doesn’t undercut their value.  Especially not within that casual, assumed backdrop of day-to-day living.

The truth is that trees communicate all-rightness to our world.  That might be a messy word, but that’s what it is.  More to the point, that’s what I need.

In fact, speaking personally, I couldn’t live without it.  Unfortunately, like too many other gifts, we tend to ignore it until it’s missing.

For example, there’s a huge, gnarled old maple lost in the middle of our woods.  The trunk splits three ways at the bole before each leg of its inverted tripod leans high into the air.  The angle varies but approaches 45° on at least one trunk.  A second isn’t much better.  Around and underneath, small, undeformed saplings reach up in puny emulation of its strength.  They’re unaware of how easy their job is.  Holding aloft their vertical weight is nothing compared to the canted task of the mammoth matriarch above them.

That observation struck me forcefully as I looked at it and remembered all that I owe trees.

Welcome gold in May’s low angle light, new leaves edge out my winters every spring.

Shade in the summer, their beauty, yellow, orange and red all aflutter, lighten my falls come September.

Perhaps, too, I felt the kinship of age.  None of us are as a young as we used to be.

In any case, Kim and I drove the Cockshutt 30 down into the woods this afternoon.  We hooked on the woodcart, filling it with ladders, cable, clamps, massive screw eyes, axes, clippers and various and sundry other tools.  Then she and I labored the rest of the day drilling, installing and tightening supporting cable high in that split maple.  We ran wire rope from one trunk to the next, including each and so back to the point of origin.  When we finished, I tensioned the cable with a massive turnbuckle.

It was uplifting.  Literally.  Kim braced the ladder as I worked.  She had perspective I missed.  “Dad!” she exclaimed, pointing.  “The trunks are all going up as you tighten the cable.”

“Wow!  Really?”  I climbed down to look.

Something else struck me as we stood back, eyeing our handiwork, demented spiders contemplating their web.

Kim must have felt it, too.  She looked sidelong my direction.  She’s remarkably savvy about her father.  She didn’t ask why we cabled a maple tree together way down in the middle of our woodlot.  Nobody but us will ever notice.  She didn’t question my sanity.  (She knows that’s a moot issue.)  Neither did she point out the obvious, “There are lots of other trees, you know.”

Instead we stood there looking up at our handiwork with the satisfaction of having helped a stranger, made a friend and together shared the knowledge that we’d done the right thing.

Absolutely, windstorms can uproot our efforts.  Lightning strikes.  Disasters abound.  But perhaps, at least for the rest of the day, we evened the balance of symbiosis between ourselves and our trees.

They’re so obvious, they’re invisible.  But don’t be fooled.

Trees are important.