Monday, July 18, 2005

Dawn Redwood

This weekend, we bought a potted dawn redwood sapling for planting in the backyard. Until 1941, when a specimen was discovered in China, this ancient tree was believed to be extinct. Like the gingko, it appears to have remained unchanged over 100 million years (the name refers to the notion that this tree, Latin name Metasequoia, has been around since the dawn of time); present-day needles and cones appear identical to those found in the fossil record. Now one of these time-travelers will grace our own habitat.

What is the mysterious connection humans have with trees? From earliest times, people gathered in sacred groves; trees were both home to, and focus of, our worship. Grand specimens were believed to be the actual habitation of gods and goddesses. Wands made from particular trees were tools of magic. In Celtic languages, the alphabet was taken from the initials of tree-names.

Trees make the wilderness hospitable, providing shade and shelter; they also supply wilderness to our tame neighborhoods, giving respiration and inspiration. Trees can undo the damage we are inflicting on the environment, both short-term and long-term. A couple of days ago, while driving in heavy traffic, i noted the outside temperature reading was 99 degrees; five minutes later, on a tree-lined street, the temp registered 88!

Planting a tree is an act of hope as well as stewardship. American Indians think of trees as our elders - easily outliving even the longest human lifespan. In many cultures, planting a tree is a fine way to commemorate birth or death.

And yet..."tree-hugger" has become an epithet to indicate over-concern for our planet - as if such a thing were possible. Those who speak with such disdain for our Mother Earth - when was the last time they walked under night skies unpolluted by horizon lights? Or enjoyed the buoyancy of salt water undisturbed by jet-ski wake? i invite everyone who reads this to go outside - today, right now if possible - and lay your hand on the bark of a tall tree. Close your eyes and listen, open yourself up to the life running beneath your palm. There's something there you need to know - what is the message for you?


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