Tree experience   Will Blozan
  Oct 16, 2003 19:14 PDT 


Thought I'd share an experience I had with a tree several years ago.

While living in Gatlinburg, TN when working for the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, I was fortunate to have 140-180 year old eastern hemlocks off
the deck of my apartment. Their knarled crowns and cloaks of lichens were
gorgeous and a regular and vital part of my experience on the property, and
a respite from the utter hell-hole of downtown Gatlinburg just 1 mile away.
One evening, while sitting on my deck overlooking the creek and the hemlock
grove, I was overcome by a profound sense of anxiety and unrest as I
examined the twisted, knarled and flood-beaten form of an old, but small
hemlock growing in the understory under a large American beech. This little
tree had etched into its form the decades of struggles and triumphs of
living in the deep shade of the hemlocks and beeches above and a regularly
flooding stream below. Some portions of the trunk were straight, others
curved, and the branching was at times random and chaotic, reaching for
patches of sun both filtered and opened up by fallen neighbors. I felt both
saddened and elated by this little tree and the stories it could tell,
evidenced and described in it's less than typical growth form. Saddened by
it's slow trip to the canopy (what do I know about tree-time, anyway?), and
elated that perhaps it was just fine where it was. It was healthy, robust in
a way, and the limbs did an elegant twisting dance in the cool winds that
flowed down the creek from the 6600' peaks above. I began to think of the
tree's life and wonder if it was in any way regretful for it's place on the
stream, in the dark shade and on the flood-scarred bank. Was it a patient
tree, just waiting for a gap to tap it's reserves and bolt to the sky? Or
had it given up, destined to be an ancient but wispy understory tree with no
aspirations to get to the upper canopy?

I continued to study the tree and ponder these thoughts, drawing inspiration
from it (I felt it was happy to be were it was) and gaining even more
respect for the species and tree time-tables in general. Then, just as
silent as could be, a huge, dead limb fell out of the large beech above and
smashed the tree.

Why was I to witness this moment in time, an instant in the century and a
half of the little tree's life?

Goosebumps yet?

RE: Tree experience   Joseph Zorzin
  Oct 17, 2003 06:04 PDT 

Nice story Will. This is why old trees and old forests are important,
not so much for their ecological contributions to Mother Earth, but
because of their contributions to the human psyche. Once we've paved
over and monocultured the planet, what good will it be? I too often look
at trees and try to imagine their life since so much of their struggle
is viewable in the shape of the tree. There are great messages written
there for us! Until such stories are perceived and appreciated, it's an
exageration to call humans intelligent.

I like to extend that interpretation to the entire forest- while walking
through any forest I try to imagine what happened here over the
centuries, why the current forest is the way it is. Then, I have the joy
of interacting with this dynamic of life via the act of silviculture- by
which I become part of the story written into the forest for future
generations to perceive. I'd like to think I've written well. <G>

Re: Tree experience
  Oct 17, 2003 09:46 PDT 
RE: Tree experience 10/17/2003 9:04:18 AM 

I always appreciate 'real' people taking the time and personal risk to share
from their heart. The other ListServ I am involved with (a very vocal 'left
coast') does not allow such sentimental wanderings. We as humans tend to paint
our observations with the same brush of our own experiences. When I was
involved with watercolor painting, I saw clouds, trees and mountains that looked
more like a painting than real life. I would imagine I could see the strokes
and even the type of brush used. As many have already shared, foresters tend
to look at the bigger picture. As an arborist, I am mostly concerned with the
details that make up the picture, and how those details benefit man. Here, an
obvious "defect" poises risk to life, property damage and the very life of
this understory survivor.

Every hour, because their hidden within the forest, the lives of understory
plants are prematurely snuffed-out by the failure of trees and tree parts
"without notice". If this dead branch would have fallen on a vehicle, rather than
an insignificant dwarf (nature's own 'bonsai'), it would have likely been
ruled as an "Act of God" and caught the attention of the neighborhood. If it
would have involved a human death, likely human negligence would have been cited,
garnering the attention of the village.    

Because this hemlock was twisted and knarled and flood-beaten and old and
growing in the understory, it was worthy of your attention and comtemplation. A
fast-growing, tall, straight-trunked hemlock would have likely been ignored
but drawn the attention of the logger.

We as humans tend to view things antithetically. Some would even remove
humans, so the Planet would truly thrive in our absence. I am one who believes
that we were put here by intelligent design and as so, have the awesome
responsibility as stewards of the Planet. Many of my clients build on wooded lots and
want to maintain the "natural look"; without further interference from man
(landscape maintenance). There's a problem with this idealistic setting. Since
man has been added to the equation, it will take man to tend it or live with
the consequences.

As an arborist, I also do appraisals on trees that have died prematurely do
to man's actions. It is my job to assess the functional benefits to humans and
estimate what it will take to replace the tree or landscape to it's
precasuality condition. Once man has entered and altered the forest, he inherits the
grave responsibility of returning it to it's former pristine glory. Once
developers and builders build subdivisions within the forest, they must
periodically intervene and interact or tolerate the consequences of indifference. If it
took this dwarf hemlock hundreds of years to attain this size, from an urban
tree appraisal viewpoint (Cost of Cure), it could have been worth more
(monetarily) than the much larger beech hoovering above. But, if to no one else,
apparently, it was to you, Will.
Randy Cyr
Greenville, SC

P.S. If you remove man from the forest or the Planet, 'who' will be left to
appreciate it's beauty and tell it's story?
RE: Tree experience   Will Blozan
  Oct 17, 2003 16:11 PDT 

As I look at potential client's trees and forests they are often amazed at
what I can say about the history of the tree or the forest, and where I see
it going in the future. I feel honored to be a perciever of the silent tree
world and a human extension of its voice.