When I think about the burning trees I think about women because we are so closely related through myth and story as well as sharing DNA. What is happening to these trees once happened to us… I note that women who normally are not keyed into trees in general seem to be deeply moved by the burning of these ‘elders’. Is that because we feel the threat to the Tree of Life and all that entails manifesting as uncontrolled fire?
The Burning Times
I gaze out my window into the swamp maples that ‘normally’ would have caught fire by the end of September. Not crimson red but bittersweet orange. I note a brownish tinge on the edges of dying leaves. Some have let go, fluttering to the ground. I must find a way to emulate them. Yesterday in the woods I am straining to see brilliance that isn’t there except for an occasional flicker. I don’t realize until I get home that this lack of color is literally depressing a life force that I have identified with my entire life. Accepting these seasonal disruptions is so hard for me – so much harder than I ever imagined.
Climate Change is a Monster.
I read about the burning Sequoias in the Northwest staring out the same window, overcome with grief. Intolerable heat from massive fires torch ancient trees I have never seen. Penetrating bark up to two feet thick. Last year, it was the Redwoods. Great Basin National Park is still closed from that holocaust. This year it is the inner forest giants, 10,000 of them, that are charred, but not beyond recognition. Some one thousand year old bodies still stand as bony skeletons. Smoking. I have no idea how long it will be before the suffering of these tortured beings will actually end because as of this writing that fire is only eight percent contained.
Sequoias and redwoods are closely related. The primary difference between the two is their habitat. Redwoods live near the coast, while Sequoias live in subalpine regions of California.
Coastal Redwoods are adapted to fire and other disturbances. Cool burning fires, flooding, or wind throw are necessary for seed germination and establishment. Seeds can also germinate on duff and logs.
Ironically, for Sequoias cool burning fires (or insects that can penetrate the cones) allow most cones to set seed. Nature orchestrates these cool fires through her thunderstorms and other natural occurrences but as the human population continues to explode there is no longer any room for natural fires to burn, so we repress them until fire explodes with a vengeance… Climate Change assures us that these fires will burn hotter and hotter with each coming year. The age of the Anthropocene is probably going to bring down the remainder of all these elders because relatively few seeds are germinating from recent fires. Too much heat. Of those that are, 98 percent die in the first year.
Forest scientists like Suzanne Simard inform us that trees have receptors for pain that are similar to our own. We share more than fifty percent of our DNA with these elders. I am not saying that trees feel pain the way humans do because we do not know. However, trees communicate with their neighbors, share resources, care for their kin, protect themselves and others, and behave as one coherent organism overall, so it is likely that they are suffering deeply.
I stare into my young forest sending loving thoughts and feelings – witnessing from afar. Because I know that communication does not have to be distant dependent I am certain that my trees and those that are burning are well aware… Bearing Witness with an open heart isn’t enough, but it’s all I have to offer.
In the house I have two pots of Norfolk Island pines that I touch many times a day without awareness until I realize I’m thinking about those burning trees, even as I long for bursts of autumn color outside my window, caught in a longing for what can no longer be.
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 Maine.