I finally started hitting the local trails, now that I was somewhere that trails existed again. And while going through a dedicated tree identification loop on the trail I was struck by something.
I envy the resilience of the beech tree.
Or perhaps not the resilience, but rather, the chance at having resilience and the sense of home.
The beech tree is situated in a network of others of its kind, connected by roots and symbiotic fungus which transmit information and nutrients. I envy how trees in the shadow of their parents are protected, growing slowly for decades until the parent tree collapses and surrenders its sunlight.
I am very quick to recommend The Secret Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and perhaps this is why I am zeroing in on beech when I go hiking, when I am not spotting hornbeams so quickly it feels like they’re flagging me down. Because these were the examples I got to see exemplifying things that I was approaching, but had not reached.
Trees raise their children. They feed their neighbors. But it’s not because trees are Just Like Us. Rather, we were once trees and we were forced to forget.
And I wish we remembered more, especially when I see how, despite nearly being wiped out by disease, beech have managed to reclaim woodland that was once cleared at the rate of an acre a day to feed a furnace. And in their shade the undergrowth is rich with ferns and moss, and lush with leaf litter, their repayment to the land that holds them in place as they reach skyward. They are in community with maples and oaks and the occasional pine. And if you successfully get deep enough into the forest, the wind in the leaves feels like watching waves flutter from below.
This is the closest I can find to a place where I feel safe, even as the silence around me implies the presence of a predator–probably me.
Beeches, and other trees in forests, have a literal rootedness that I do not, cannot ever have. That I can only seek out a substitute for. Which I will always be frustrated by.
If I am lucky, I wonder if I will grow to be the tree at the trail entrance that is scarred with carved initials and profanities, marked by someone’s desire to express a sense of ownership.
In June I left the house where I had lived for 27 years. When my parents bought their new house in December of 2020 I stayed behind as a caretaker, not wanting to leave my job that was barely paying for itself and having gotten sick to death of living with them. This ended up being perfect timing because I was exposed to covid at work just a few weeks later. I marked the solstice with a massive pineapple and anchovy pizza and explaining to the delivery guy, through the glass door, on the phone, that I could not open the door.
As I’m writing this it’s almost Christmas again. A holiday that I do not celebrate. A holiday that I successfully, completely avoided for the first time last year because I could not take visitors. The holiday I now cannot avoid because everyone else I live with celebrates it.
I do suppose, however, that it is super fucking recon of me to give in to my mother’s insistence on buying me things I need but cannot currently afford, because Christmas. I am back in circumstances where I am able to receive assistance and care that I have needed but kept putting off.
But I do not feel rooted.
I felt exposed in the city. I did not realize the extent of my emotional attachment to ambient plant and animal life until it was reduced to pigeons, badly behaved pandemic puppies, baby trees choking in pavement and the stubborn sycamores further south that simply ripped their way through decades ago. And I admired those sycamores because they had something I didn’t. I am stubborn and I am resilient, but unlike with sycamores, these are not pushed along by a will to live.
And what little I had was rapidly deteriorating in the city, where I felt constantly overstimulated with no way of turning away from anything. Sometimes Rob would have to scoop me up and take me out to the graveyard, or to East Earl, where at least the absence of trees was compensated for by farmland.
Now I am in a new location with a painful sense of being right back where I started. I don’t know how much of this inability to settle is self-inflicted bullshit, versus honestly earned suspicion.
But at least there are trees. There is at least one place where my shoulders can drop and I can catch a breath.