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The Trees for the Forest

A Walk

By Douglas GrossPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

Today I walked the wood that surrounds my home. I only have a few acres, but it’s my little escape. I’m not well today and needed to move to keep the lungs fighting their war against Covid. So I walked.

But I saw something today that I had missed in nearly 30 years of wandering these trails. I had not seen the trees for the forest.

Their beauty and their majesty as individuals I’d somehow overlooked. Other than a couple exceptions, I had missed it. There’s a pair of massive Poplar trees that have always left me in awe. I wondered, are they mother and daughter, father and son, or maybe brothers that remained long after their ancient parents had moldered into dust. Then there’s a couple Sycamores with their peeling bark that had always caught my eye. But I suddenly saw for the first time how truly incredible they all are.

Then something new captured my attention. It was the competition and violence. You can see the perennial battle they wage in their quest to reach the sun. The twisting and turning and pushing their way to thrust above the canopy of their neighbors.

And then the violence. You can’t watch its progress, humans live far too short a time, and we lack the patience. But the evidence lies scattered at the feet of the victors. Countless husks of the remnants of the fight. Some barely more than twigs, while others are massive, old, and decayed.

But they don’t fight alone. Wild Grape Vines shoot with them into the sky. Doubtless, they stowed away around the small trunks of these giants decades and maybe even centuries ago. As the trees grew and soared ever higher, they simply hung around for the ride. Now there are some vines thick as my waist as they enter the ground, reaching scores of feet in the air as they too strive to find the sun.

And, of course, in Tennessee, we have Poison Ivy. I learned quickly after moving to Tennessee from Michigan that this is not normal Poison Ivy. I called it Lee’s Revenge cause it took a toll on us Yankees every single year. I had never seen these “furry ropes” of ivy, some the size of my wrist, climbing the sides of trees in the North. If you want a couple weeks of itchy misery, feel free to grab hold of one.

There are even Grape Vines that support the fallen as they decay. It’s as though they can’t bear to let them go yet. They form a kind of bier for them to rest on as they fall back to the dust from which they came. Maybe it’s a solemn thank you for the decades of support the trees gave them?

And no, it is not just trees. They support a myriad of other lives. In every direction, I can see this little ecosystem at work. To my left, I can see Woodpeckers feeding their young inside a hole in a towering Black Walnut. And soaring above that, to my right, another Poplar housing a huge nest of Racoons in the tree tops. Squirrels use the vines and tree limbs like a little super highway. Years ago, there were Flying Squirrels. Unfortunately, the Feral Cats figured out how to gauge their landing zones, and they gradually disappeared into Feline bellies.

You have to wonder what these massive sentinels have seen? How far back in our little town’s history must these giants go? How much destruction have they witnessed around them as their brethren were bulldozed to build another ironically wooden box to house us, humans?

I will protect them a bit longer, though the life of a man is but a fraction of what they can know.

When I’m gone, will they be clearcut like the rest of their neighbors and burned on a pyre of “progress?” Or, will someone else see more than the tiny living, dying, decaying woods and see the trees for the forest?


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