Abide

Autumn. Hallowed season, full of color and oblique light, slanted and golden. Echoes from distant places wafting in chilly air, laced with spice and earthy riches, tasting like promise. Leaves falling like pages of a book turning, ending another chapter, moving to the next…

A time for contemplating life.

And trees.

And what they have to say, about being alive.

I am drawn by research on ways that trees communicate with one another. Their intricate root system (scientists call it the “wood-wide web”), their pheromones, their electrical pulses… so much more is going on than what we humans can see or hear. Trees can warn each other of danger; they can nourish and heal each other.

I stumbled across a book I am going to need, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World, by forester Peter Wohlleben. Journalist Richard Grant writes of Wohlleben’s observations on the topic in “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” (Smithsonian Magazine, March 2018):

Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.

Wohlleben also discovered chlorophyll in a huge beech stump from a tree felled four to five centuries ago—meaning it is still alive. Grant writes: There was only one explanation. The surrounding beeches were keeping it alive, by pumping sugar to it through the network. “When beeches do this, they remind me of elephants,” he [Wohlleben] says. “They are reluctant to abandon their dead, especially when it’s a big, old, revered matriarch.”

I contemplate these words, considering the trees undergoing their autumnal change. Communicating with each other, communal to the end…

For some reason, lines of the old hymn, “Abide with Me,” come to mind: The darkness deepens…change and decay in all around I see…

What might the trees say?

Let us reserve
our resources
pool our energy
by the still waters.
By this reservoir
we drink our fill
after the darkness
we shall be here, still.

They shed their fragile, light-capturing organs because it would require too much energy, would be too costly, to try to keep one’s leaves alive in winter’s dark, icy blasts. They cannot live if they don’t let go.

Is there an inherent message? Resharing from a previous post, “Don’t Should on Yourself”:

Shed your shoulds
like leaves in woods
Trees shorn of fragility
preserve their ability
to survive.

Hear should rustling: ‘Don’t forget’
like leaves curling with regret
Spiraling, sigh by sigh
piling inside, dead and dry
cluttering today.

Beware should’s false measure
robbing Now of its pleasure
Shed those shoulds
like autumn woods
composting for tomorrow.

For me, in the autumn of my own existence, everything is bathed in oblique light, slanted and golden…I walk my wooded path, here and there scattering extensions of myself, posts and poems and words, stopping to gathering those of others, a communal communication that never ceases to amaze and which has everything to do with survival. Perhaps writing stems from a deep-seated need to renew, to live life anew, to make something new and beautiful from the jumbled pattern of our days, while they last.

In the great scheme of things, it’s a collective glory-story.

Can’t you hear each leaf whispering, as it falls:

Abide.

*******

with thanks to the nourishing, beauty-scattering Poetry Friday community and to Robyn Hood Black for hosting today’s Roundup.

24 thoughts on “Abide

  1. Abide is a beautiful, peaceful word. I love that hymn. I also love the connectedness of trees. In Hop to It (the collection Robyn is sharing today), Sylvia and Janet placed a bubble with the fact about trees talking next to my “Zen Tree.” I didn’t even know that much about it when I wrote the poem. But in a way, that’s how poems are, connected like the roots of trees.

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    • I must get a copy of Hop to It – the scientific info there intrigues me as much as the poetry (in this case, poet-tree, lol). Fascinating, all of our interconnectedness. A favorite theme for me. I adore Zen Tree, Margaret.

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    • I am so glad you find the post soothing, Jan – and I cannot take credit for that leaf mosaic. I was walking a path in a park and there it was, a work of art left for someone else to come along and discover. I but took the photo, to remember and marvel. I so appreciate your words – peace to you!

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  2. Every single part of this is inspiring, Fran. I love your connection to ‘abide’, and I have read Wohlleben’s book, have kept it, too. Trees are magical and I’ve lately also read The Overstory. Check it Out, too! This particular year of so many forest fires here, I have hated seeing the photos of the forest brought down. But they do renew, stay hidden underground until the right time. And I enjoyed your “should” poem. In my family, we used to say often, no “shoulda, woulda, coulda”! Have a lovely weekend!

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    • Linda, The Overstory is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I have dozens of pages flagged for quotes and one of them is even pinned on my Twitter profile: “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” Thank you so much for your words.

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  3. Abide…such a beautiful word and thought. I agree with you about the power and mystery of tree communication. It’s fascinating. I openly admit that trees are my friends. We talk too. I know them and they know me. When I move from this home to another, I will miss the trees as much as anything. I do love your “don’t should on yourself.” Ha! What a great idea for a poem.

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    • True tree confessions-! I love it. I can imagine it will be hard to leave the trees when you are uprooted to somewhere new, Linda. I suspect they’ll miss you as well. Delighted that you enjoyed the “don’t should-” poem. Years ago, as I was lamenting all the things I should have done differently as a new literacy coach, my mentor stopped me. She placed her hand on my arm and said, “Don’t should on yourself.” For the rest of that year I kept the phrase on my coaching notebook. I ended the original post with this: “The moral of the story, Friends: Don’t should on yourself. Scrape that mess off and use it for fertilizer.” It works for any facet or walk of life … just being careful where you step …!

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  4. So much to love here. I’ve read/listened to The Hidden Life of Trees several times. I think often about it when appreciating trees. This line: “For me, in the autumn of my own existence, everything is bathed in oblique light, slanted and golden” Me, too. And a word to ponder: abide.
    Thank you!

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    • Hidden Life is on my wish list along with a Celtic book on trees and healing … seems sort of necessary and definitely intriguing. So glad you enjoyed that line – here’s to looking at life and the world with autumn eyes, finding the beauty. Thanks so much for your words, Mary Lee.

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  5. Thank you for your beautiful thoughts, Fran. I loved “oblique light, slanted and golden” and so much more, but I went back to those words several times. Your post reminded me of the book The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing. It’s not so much about trees as it is about writing, but something you might enjoy.

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  6. Fran, the way you wove this post is remarkable. Each section moved succinctly into a rotted system of connected thoughts. You gave me much to ponder right to the very end: “Perhaps writing stems from a deep-seated need to renew, to live life anew, to make something new and beautiful from the jumbled pattern of our days, while they last.” Beautiful and soul-filling. Within this autumn of our lives we shall connect through words and be fulfilled.

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