Tag Archives: roots

Listening to the silent stars.

Diary of a mountain sojourn:

DAY 1:  I arrive at the cabin overlooking a lake for my second visit this summer. The last twenty minutes I was driving through a thunderstorm with huge drops splattering the windshield and dark grey-purple clouds all around the lake when it first came into view.

I am alone in the house until at least tomorrow night, and there don’t seem to be many people in the little village, either. It took me slightly less than six hours of driving to get here, if you don’t count the first hour when I got to the next town before realizing that I’d forgotten the keys to the gates and the cabin — so back I drove, and started over. I’m so thankful I remembered so soon; a few years ago we forgot the keys and it was inconvenient to say the least.

The quiet is so complete, it reveals the noise in my body and soul as so much jangling and buzzing and ringing. But it’s a weary and even bored kind of excitement – I hate to think of how so many of us get through day after day on this kind of “energy.”

I expect that as I go to sleep listening to God in the silence of the stars, the noise of my mad journey to get here will begin to evaporate.

DAY 2: Every time I wake and turn over in the night, the silence is there enveloping me as cozily as my sleeping bag. Until 7:00, when a bird call breaks the quiet and brings me to consciousness. Other than the Steller’s Jays, I don’t know most of the mountain birds. I do see a woodpecker occasionally.

This morning, the sky is bright blue and cloudless, but the deck is very wet, and it’s only 44 degrees. In spite of my deep sleep, I am groggy and have a slight headache from the altitude. This is a catch-up day, so I go back to bed and eventually to sleep again.

Not getting much “done” today – I’m trying to enter into that rest, in spite of a brain that can’t hold a thought. There is less oxygen up here for sure! Well, not exactly:

“The percentage of oxygen is the same at sea level as it is at high altitudes, which is roughly 21 percent. However, because air molecules at high altitudes are more dispersed, each breath delivers less oxygen to the body.”

It takes me a long time to shower and dress and to decide about breakfast. I make summer squash with scrambled eggs, and yes, I will have coffee this morning. Suddenly it seems that a big mug of coffee with cream will complete the event in the most comforting way. Will it compensate for the oxygen?

It used to be that coffee was made by my father in a percolator, and my husband always loved that strong brew. Daddy bought a second, extra large version for the rare times that we had a crowd here. But lately someone has added a French press and a grinder to the kitchen equipment, so I use that, only because it’s what I’m used to.

While eating breakfast I text with friends on my phone! Even more than using the French press, it feels a bit sacrilegious to be in contact with the world “down there.” Three or four years ago when it became an option in the cabin, I didn’t use it – but at this stage of my life I don’t crave Alone Time that is absolute, and when you are trying to coordinate meals and supplies with people who are coming later, it’s very helpful. We don’t have phone service, but those with iPhones up here can text with iPhones elsewhere, and then there is email, Facebook, etc.

Not that I know what all the etcetera are. I have no hope of catching up in the tech world; “they” are always changing things and calling it upgrading. I don’t know why Apple Photos have to be so complicated: It’s so so easy to take pictures and have them stored in Moments and Place and in the Cloud. But then I can’t find them when I want to put one in my blog!

Oh, well, I can finish the post when I get home. And I want to read while I’m here. I brought The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, which one or more of my readers recommended, and am reading it on the deck surrounded by a virgin forest. But I haven’t gotten past the introductory chapters when I come to a hint that this forester author is going to be annoying.

Tim Flannery in the foreword explains a little about how trees in a forest communicate by means of fungi in their root systems. Trees send electrical impulses, they exude chemicals toxic to specific insects when one starts chewing on a neighbor… I have heard about these phenomena and want to learn more, which is why I am reading this book. Trees show us God’s glory, and He fills all His creation with His presence, including trees. I want to know and love them more.

In the introduction to the English version, the author uses half of the page space to tell the story of an ecosystem, how wolves that have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park have “kept the [elk] herds on the move,” so that the elk aren’t defoliating the trees along the streams, the beaver are back, and so on. I understand all this.

But then he tells us that we humans ought to learn from the wolves’ “stewardship of natural processes.” Wait a minute! The wolves are just doing what comes naturally to them, as do the elk, when they “make quite a meal of the aspens, willows, and cottonwoods….” I don’t know why he doesn’t label the elk as poor stewards, because they are equally intentional in their destruction as the wolves are in their destruction. The author also doesn’t mention that the reason the wolves are keeping the elk on the move is to kill and eat them – not to promote the restoration of streams. And a wolf would eat a beaver if it were convenient.

Stewardship is intentional and not instinctive. Wikipedia: Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. But why tell this story of wolves, when it has only the remotest connection to how trees communicate with one another? The motivation for doing that might make an interesting tangent to run along, but I know you are glad I won’t. I hope the author will get down to business now and tell us what he really knows about trees, and not fall into too much romantic euphemizing and speculating, but I’m not very hopeful.

The air is cooling as the sun sinks behind the peaks. Dusk comes early in the mountains. It’s 5:30. Tonight, or tomorrow, Pippin’s family will arrive and we’ll spend a few more days together. They invited me for this stay, but I arrived first, glad to get through my lethargic day without the children around for contrast.

I found a way to get some photos in here, so I will publish this part of my “diary” now – otherwise it would be way too long by the time I get home. But before I go, here are some elderberries I saw on the way up yesterday. And my family just drove up… Good night!

Next day’s entry is HERE.

Rambling from roots to rest.

On the tail of my recent mention of trees and their strength, I was impressed by the tree roots in this collection of photos in The Guardian, “Root Force.” My wandering mind led me from there down this bloggy path to make the kind of word-thing that is too long because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

Italian cypresses and giant oaks, pine trees with thick trunks arching over lawns — the neighborhood in which I’ve been walking the last few days is a good one for a tree-lover, but it’s fairly new (not 50 years old yet) and manicured, not the kind of place where one is likely to see trees who have managed to exert their wills in the way of this example from the article.


This photo is compelling, and led me to search and find online many more cases of invasive tree roots, and I also know one firsthand. At my husband’s childhood home a steel post had been stuck in the earth to stake a young tree that, presumably while everyone was watching (whether out of the corners of their eyes, or faster than they could blink their eyes, I can’t say), grew up and around to swallow its supporting rod. But not completely; the top of the stake appeared to grow ungracefully out of the huge trunk.

Does it seem off topic, my telling you about  the tree trunk, not the root? We must remember that all the parts are connected.

What occurs to me is that to live on a piece of land, to have a house or gate or sidewalk which you essentially give over to a living plant, is to show a deference to nature or at least a willingness to co-exist even in the likelihood that you, the human, will be the one to relinquish something. Or does it show that everyone was too busy or lazy to care? Many times I have let smaller plants in my garden have their way, but I somewhat regret that I haven’t had enough trees in my life, or lived ages in one place, for this to happen with great woody specimens.

All the roots and trees passing by my eyes and through my mind this week bring me around to the Incarnation, the birth of Christ which we are celebrating. That’s because the most persistent and enduring life system, if you will, is the Root of Jesse, and the Branch that sprouted, mentioned in Isaiah 11. Iconographers have painted this flowing of our salvation history, and it is the inspiration for many other types of illustrations, like this dramatic interpretation by Ansgar Holmberg:

  Jesse tree rj- ansgar

Some excerpts from the passage in Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

I am pleased to have arrived at a Christmastime theme, a history and reality that leads many of my friends to put up a Jesse Tree decoration during Advent. Christ is somehow the Root and the Branch and the whole Tree of Life. It’s just one of the ways that the metaphor of trees and roots and branches is used in the Bible to reveal God’s plans and ways to us. No wonder I love trees: I admire them for their strength and grace, but I am myself alive with the same sap that is the Source of all root and tree life.

My own preference for letting trees take over is a romantic and privileged one; I don’t live where hardwood forests perennially compete with farmers for every plot of soil, or where such things as Weed Trees can be talked about knowingly. We were told via Adam and Eve to have dominion over nature, which at the least means conserving it and managing it. A gate that can’t function as a gate because some roots have essentially ruined it is not a sign of good husbandry after all, though it makes a pretty picture. Other clashes that come to mind involve roots doing bad things to pipes; the play of humankind with  trees is not always artistic, because the design elements are always in flux.

Time is a factor you don’t want to ignore in this sort of interplay. So many people disregard it, not imagining what a nursery sapling might become in 20 years, roots and branches reaching out and down and to the sky. Living in the  moment doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to plan for the future, taking into account the nature of living things to change and grow.

Even God plans, and caused His good will to be planted especially in the family of Jesse, the father of King David, from whose tribe our Savior blossomed forth. He had a very long-range perspective and intention, and we haven’t seen the end of it.

The imagery in The Guardian, and the language that connotes for me destruction and relinquishment, seem to contrast with the words of Isaiah quoted above. Nature will be at peace in the day of which the prophet speaks, and a great order will prevail because of the knowledge of the Lord. It will be a large space where all of God’s creation can function as intended, with plenty of room for partnership and concord between mankind and the rest of creation. What struck me most was that last line above: “His rest shall be glorious.”

I’ve been wanting to post again a link to the carol Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, in which we are appropriately encouraged in Christ to “sit and rest awhile.” I think it’s what I’ve been longing to say — and for that we don’t have to wait until Christmas.