Social distance of trees

One of the best books I’ve read in recent years is The Overstory, Richard Powers’ novel of the American chestnut blight that wiped out almost all of those beautiful trees by the end of the 1930s. Powers wraps stories of people’s lives around that core like concentric rings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on April 15, 2019, a year ago yesterday. Author Robert Macfarlane’s enthusiastic praise of the book led me to read it and to plunge deep into the secretive, endlessly fascinating world of trees. They communicate with one another. They have memory. Maybe they are whispering their secrets to us … This week Macfarlane shared an article on Twitter about the social distance practice of some trees, the phenomenon known as crown or canopy shyness, their treetops (“overstory”) not touching in order to survive in the competition for resources like sunlight. That was the clarion call to me: Write something. About trees and how they do this. But what? How? Then I stumbled across a different article about the Fibonacci sequence of trees, oaks in particular: as their branches grow, five branches to two spirals, a pattern is formed. Could I combine these ideas, somehow?

Doesn’t poetry always make a way?

A Fibonacci poem on the social distance practices of trees:

Trees
keep
distance:
crown shyness,
their overstory,
shared but not touching each other.

Photo: Old oak. Dave Parker. CC BY.

5 thoughts on “Social distance of trees

  1. Don’t you just love the universe and nature and how ideas touch each other, like the overstory? The Fib poem is one I successfully use with kids. Love “crown shyness.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wanting to read overstory for quite some time!

    And ohhh the Fibonacci sequence. As someone who loves numbers as much as she loves words, I find such fascination with the patterns in nature: Fibonacci, fractals, the Golden Ratio…all of it. There is poetry to nature, and anyone who disagrees just hasn’t looked closely enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are so many glorious passages in The Overstory that I started flagging the pages… you must read! I need to reread. I’ve never been an especially “math smart” person (alas). But I am fascinated by its blueprints in nature – pi being part of the rainbow and all. Unparalleled precision.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s my soabox: I think people are MUCH more mathematically-minded than they give themselves credit for.

        In my former job, where my position focused mostly on mathematics (imagine!), I fancied myself as someone who would tutor adults to get in touch with their inner mathematician. I still think I could!

        Liked by 1 person

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