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 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
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
Hear should rustling: ‘Don’t forget’
like leaves curling with regret
Spiraling, sigh by sigh
piling inside, dead and dry
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:
with thanks to the nourishing, beauty-scattering Poetry Friday community and to Robyn Hood Black for hosting today’s Roundup.