Mother Trees

Neither we nor our thinking are separate from the world.

When we allowed
science to convince us
that there is no soul
or intelligence in matter,
the Earth's physical forms
became only cemetery markers
showing where spirits once moved
through the world.
The autopsy
of the material world
then began in earnest.
Its dissected parts
now litter the landscape
and we walk, depressed,
among lifeless statuary,
only accidental lifeforms
on the surface of
a ball of rock
hurtling around the sun.

The metal gate is unlocked.

Other kinds of flowers
nod in sunlight
outside that wrought-iron fence.

Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants

Lately, I've been thinking about Mother Trees. These are the matriarchs of the forest. In the complex forest community, each Mother Tree is a node or hub that is connected to a neighborhood of tree kin, many of which are genetic offspring that the Mother Tree cares for, sending food, guidance, and even warnings and extra nutrients to protect saplings from stresses such as logging and disease. In the forest, an area roughly equivalent to the size of a human footprint contains hundreds of miles of connective tissue known as mycorrhizae - the fungal network like a huge brain that links all trees in a forest and beyond. Trees are sophisticated, sentient beings.

We can thank Suzanne Simard, professor or forestry at the University of British Columbia, for these insights, and for coining the term Wood Wide Web to describe these relational connections

When a forest is clear cut, and even in selective cuts, when Mother Trees are removed, the forest struggles to regrow, and will be greatly weakened. Similarly, if the Mother Trees are left undisturbed, the forest recovers much more quickly, maintaining resilience and overall health. 

In addition to communicating with each other (and with animals and birds), trees and plants communicate easily with humans. Instructions can be found in Stephen Harrod Buhner's book, The Secret Teachings of Plants, quoted above. Hint: start by hanging out with a particular plant or tree that intrigues or attracts you. Get quiet and listen deeply, with your heart, and begin to receive and send information. The tree or plant will tell you about itself. The skeptical can then verify that information. (I guess all of us tree-huggers and hippies who talk to our plants and play music to them aren't so far off the mark after all.)

Like trees, like elephants and other animals, humans are not solitary beings. We are hard-wired for community. 'Rugged individualism' is a hoax. It is an impossibility. And all communities have their 'mother trees' - the people who naturally draw others to them, who nourish and guide them, who pay attention to the needs of the community and seek ways to provide what individuals and the community as a whole might need. These are our natural leaders who, for the sake of the community, should be supported and heard (herd?). 

Interestingly, in writing this, I asked the I Ching what needed to be emphasized here, for the greatest benefit to the reader. The response was Hexagram 43: Deciding and Parting (Stephen Karcher translation, Total I Ching: Myths for Change). Deciding and Parting isn't about gathering up one's toys and stomping off in a huff. It's about acting decisively to announce an oracular message, parting with the past through the image of rivers separating. Specifically, it advises: The ideal Realizing Person reflects this by extending his strength and support to all below.

Ideally, our government representatives would remember that this is their role - to be a Mother Tree to the community's mother trees and to each other, so that the nourishment of their leadership ripples out through the society at large to each community, to each family and to all of us connected to each other by fate or by choice. Unfortunately, few of our leaders understand this. Alas, even fewer talk to plants and trees, and so would have no idea how to begin to become who they must be in order to lead us from extinction to thriving. Perhaps it is time for us to remind them how the real world works.


Cynthia TravisComment