All sentient creatures are negatively affected by the deaths of one species.
And still people refuse to see.
As I wrote about the loss of trees and woodpeckers old tree memories surfaced without warning. Resolutely, I faced my past…
Thirty five years ago I left the coast of Maine because trees were being slaughtered and their insides ground up so million dollar homes could be built. Initially, I believed that I escaped tree carnage by moving to the edge of the wilderness in the western hills only to discover that whole mountains were being strip logged around me. The stench of pitch nauseated me. I wept, helpless in the face of such violence.
It was then that the trees began to speak to me, at first through dreams and later because I had learned to listen. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but I suspect the trees taught me without words – communicating telepathically. I spent every day with trees in my forest, hiked to other wooded areas on a regular basis, sat under hemlocks by my brook, tenderly caressed rough ashen trunks and the smooth gray velvet of maple and beech, rejoiced in the pines when they protected wild bear cubs in their uppermost branches while their mothers foraged, sometimes miles away. And when the fruit trees blossomed on ‘my land’ I experienced a wondrous sense of tree renewal – if only for a few precious weeks each year.
The trees taught me that it was my job to witness for them not just in their living, but in their dying. For many years I spoke to no one about this latter “personal affliction”. I honestly believed I had been singled out to experience a hell that no one else could see or feel and some days I thought that the screams of one more tree crashing to the ground or one more devastating tree dream would kill me. There was no reprieve. Every time I tried to talk to someone about tree death I was ridiculed. I shut up and learned to live with pain that had no outlet, except through journaling. I never dared to publish anything that had to do with what was happening to me with trees. Thirty- five years is a long time to grieve alone.
When I arrived in the desert three years ago, initially I felt profound relief to be free of trees altogether. Here reptilian ridged and cone shaped hills and mountains dominated the landscape. Trees were scarce except for serpentine shaggy junipers and the magnificent Cottonwoods that held court by the rivers. However, I hadn’t been here a month when I adopted a seedling juniper in front of the place I was renting. In spite of my relief at leaving trees behind they snared me – I was in love again.
For a while I felt hopeful because I believed that junipers were allowed to live out their natural lives. Then, less than a year later I discovered that in the higher elevations the same logging horrors I had left behind were occurring here too. Next came the forest fires that burned for weeks clogging my lungs. I couldn’t breathe through the stench of managed and unmanaged forest burns, and some days when the wind blew the air reeked. Air pollution was a palpable threat here that no one talked about. Now I realize that people who live here simply can’t smell it. It wasn’t long before I could hear the trees screaming for water. A new element of tree catastrophe entered the picture; how ironic that I came here to escape tree pain. It was worse here than in the Northeast. Would anything but our mutual deaths ever alleviate this intolerable (to me) suffering of ours?
And then something remarkable happened. On the night of the winter solstice I went to listen to a Navajo storyteller who also happened to be a seer. With deep compassion she spoke about how humans had used/abused Nature and dismissed her as being irrelevant, and that as a result human extinction was on the horizon. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t suspected this probable outcome – as a naturalist and ethologist I had been advocating tirelessly on behalf of all Nature for too many years to prevent this possibility from becoming reality. I tried to keep hope in the picture as long as I could. During the last two years I slipped out of hope into endurance – That, and crushing heartbreak that virtually no one, but my friend Lise, was willing to witness.
After hearing the words about the inevitability of human extinction I finally surrendered. As I left the room that night I felt as if an intolerable burden had been lifted, and that I was finally free.
The next morning I walked to the river and for the first time in thirty- five years leaned into the trees in their dying without pain.
In the hole that opened up during my final surrender, primordial gray winged birds of peace and acceptance had taken up residence within me. Humans will die, but Life will continue and trees will live on too; not in their present form, but 400 million years of sentient living, loving, serving will help them create new forms.
As I returned to the present moment I had answered my question about why it was so important that Flicker carved holes: carving out holes (wholes?) creates space for a new kind of becoming. The Earth is singing about beginnings because her time is drawing near…
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.