I want to thank you for guiding me along the path I have followed for nearly six decades. More accurately, the many paths I have taken. Consequently, this letter is to all of you; all the trees. Because I have met many of you since I was but a sapling myself. And I know that many, perhaps millions of you, most I have never seen or touched, have also guided me along, and still do.
Although my six decades are but a blink in time compared to the decades, even centuries, that many of you have lived, you might remember me. Possibly as a toddler hugging your rough bark. Maybe as an adolescent climbing up into your arms, sometimes sitting in your embrace for hours at a time while watching life below and the skies above. Perhaps as a young adult when I built a small cabin of your wood amidst a northeastern forest of you all, both those that hold on to your leaves all year and those that hibernate in the winter.
It was during those years, a span of a decade or more, in that cold but beautiful area, that you and I became close. I would sit on your feet that were buried under the soil and listen to your stories. I watched closely all the insects, birds and animals that lived in and around you, as you fed and housed them, just like you did me. And it was then that I fell in love with the marriage between the ephemeral but cyclic nature of things. It all became a process within processes; never-ending cycles that overlap with others. Which evolve into a constant turning and churning of systems and context. In which we all live and die on this planet.
I watched and learned without trying to ascribe a name to everything I was aware of. Names weren’t necessary. Until I discovered that trying to communicate my observations and your stories to other people was unsuccessful. Humans like names so that everything has a label and can be categorized. And while I understand that now, I didn’t back then. Mainly because it seemed that once it was named, when the name was learned, everything else lost its importance. Especially that which was named. And to me, that seemed wrong.
But I decided to play the game and enroll in university to learn the names, and learn about the names that were attached to all the trees. Then possibly I could impart a sense of knowing about all of you that was greater and deeper than the names they gave you. And perhaps the more they got to know you, the more they would care about you. All of you. So I began my university studies in Forestry, which is the science of trees.
But that was fraught with issues, too, as I later discovered. The primary focus in my studies was not how trees take care of themselves and interact with their environment, but how people should take care of them so they can get the most out of them as fast as possible. Yet, I did find a few people who sincerely cared about you. They studied how you grow, what makes you sick, how we can help you avoid diseases and assist you in achieving and maintaining a healthy environment for yourselves and all the other creatures that share it. Including us humans. I followed them and learned much. Such as preventing overcrowding so that you can all share the same resources, reducing disease, and encouraging saplings underneath. We also learned when to just leave you all alone.
Many years later, I realized I needed to learn about other creatures and organisms, because they share your home, too. When I left my favorite woods and trees, I grieved at leaving you all behind. I still do. I moved thousands of miles away to a place where the Grandfathers live. Where trees are so tall and big around that the only way to see them and hear their stories was to lie on my back for hours. Even then, I could not see all of them. They were grand, many so old that their stories betrayed our presence on this planet as mere badly behaved babies. And, after seeing what we did to them, we were certainly due for a good punishment.
On that side of the continent, I learned more about the microscopic world in which you live, right down to the smallest particles of energy. I learned the stories of how you acquired the machinery, in chloroplasts, to harness energy from the sun. And how the powerhouse organelles inside our own bodies, the mitochondria, are not that dissimilar from yours. And how even they originated from microscopic organisms, eventually incorporated into our bodies during a time we can’t fathom. In fact, the more I learned about all the other organisms, the more I felt closer them, and they to us. Most importantly, I learned that we are more alike than different.
In that time, and thereafter, I felt a kinship with all of you and all the other organisms around me. And around us. I also learned how we are all related in many ways, and interconnected. I dare say, my friends, that I realized why I couldn’t live in the large synthetic places where humans are packed together. Not enough trees, other plants and animals. Our manufactured contrivances cannot substitute for the natural places you thrive.
Later, I moved to an entirely different environment, where in many places, trees don’t grow. Those that do are dwarfed, contorted and often sport thorns that catch and scratch. But these are merely adaptations that help them survive in a harsh environment. Severe climate, harsh sun and scarce water have dictated their adaptation and evolution to favor survival here. Some plants have even evolved to use more than one photosynthetic pathway to efficiently conserve water and produce nutrients. If only we humans could adapt as easily.
This past summer, after forty-two years, I visited the trees of my youth. I felt like a little fairy meandering about your big stems anchored in the soil. I felt your bark again, stared up at your giant heads in the sky, and gathered your fallen leaves like they were drops of blood that dripped on the ground. I know you were done with them and let them go, but to me they were precious jewels. You reminded me of my youth, and I walked hand in hand with my own childish self. You reminded me of my young adult admiration and dreams. And my older self, now losing my own leaves as they dissipate into the air where no one will gather them to remember.
I want to be buried at your feet, where my organic self might feed you. I want to give back the essence you have given me. Part of me wants to be tossed out as carbon ashes into the wind of the desert, where the small contribution might somehow be gathered up the xylum of a desert flower as it struggles to propagate in fantastic color. And I want to ride the wind, in song and ash, to blow around the world singing this letter to all the trees. And thank them all for giving us so much when we give back so little.
When you whisper in the wind, hear my whispers that I love you. And I thank all the trees, shrubs, flowers and grass, the fungi, lichen and insects, the mammals, fish, and birds, all that live in your world, for making me who and what I am.