Predawn,

the time when it’s light enough to see forms of trees,

and I’m doing math.

Let’s see: 600 years-old x 365 days = 219,000.

That’s 219,000 chances for a western red cedar

to feel the dark surrender to the light.

Not far south, coastal redwoods get 730,000 such resurrections

(for left brainers: 2,000 x 365)

though for cedars and redwoods,

the glory of sunrise is often little more than the subtlety

between black rainfog and gray rainfog,

a study perfect for charcoal artists.

 

I’m also thinking about the math of plumbing:

250 feet into the mist for the cedar,

360 feet lost in the fog for the terminal bud of the redwood.

Each requires discourse and trade far below

with roots and mycelium,

all translating dirt, wind, and light,

feats so slowly performed in their tent show of abracadabras

that we miss them no matter our mindfulness.

 

The plumbing, though, that’s the final arbiter,

the crucial architectural design required to pump sap to the tip top,

which,

and you’re welcome to try this by hand in your own home,

is hard to do with no mechanical parts and no fossil fuels.

 

It’s more than plumbing though.

The ghostly white mycelium,

the threadlike roots of fungi,

snake everywhere,

casting a net through the soil

seining for water and nutrients,

connecting this tree to that tree

to that tree to that tree

everyone holding hands in a vast underground internet of tree talk,

trading goods and services without Dow or Jones complicating things.

 

Meanwhile, at the top of the tree, wind flows by for centuries

carrying dust and seeds and leaves that eventually collect in the branches,

growing forest gardens

of huckleberries, elderberries, gooseberries, ferns.

 

Why are we here? What is asked of us? How do we reciprocate?

Perhaps it is as simple as putting our faith in loving

this most inconceivable place

in walking in everyone’s shoes – fungi, lichens, mosses, soil, fog, light –

and letting that wandering love guide us

to the top of a tree

into the fungal mats

into the light and mist.

John Bates is the author of seven books on the Northwoods and Upper Midwest, and a contributor to four others. He has worked as a state forest naturalist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and owns Trails North, a naturalist guide service. He also conducts outdoor classes for Nicolet College, the University of Wisconsin Extension, and the North Lakeland Discovery Center. For twenty years he has written a biweekly column, “A Northwoods Almanac” for the Lakeland Times in Minocqua, Wisconsin.