Returning to the poem The Ship and Her Makers this morning as I consider the smoke alarm in my hotel room that chirped all night. Such is the glamorous life of travel. Writing instead of sleeping in is a habit I’ve developed, and there’s no sleeping in with a chirpy roommate.
We grew on mountains where the glaciers cry,
Infinite sombre armies of us stood
Below the snow-peaks which defy the sky;
A song like the gods moaning filled our wood;
We knew no men—our life was to stand staunch,
Singing our song, against the avalanche.
– John Masefield, The Ship and Her Makers
Living in New Hampshire I know the power of trees. The white pines that dominated the forests were cut down for masts and wide plank floors and countless other uses the trees weren’t consulted on, but they’ve grown back, and New Hampshire, just behind neighboring Maine, top the nation in percentage of “above ground woody biomass”, or as we call them around here; trees.
“Every walk in the forest is like taking a shower in oxygen.” – Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World
The irony of writing about trees thirteen stories above the largely treeless Chicago landscape isn’t lost on me. Love the city, but couldn’t live here. Give me trees. Walking amongst the tallest of them certainly brings humans back to earth. Forests are the opposite of cities in that respect too. Skyscrapers race to be the tallest, just as trees do, but they’re all in it for themselves. Not so with trees.
“But isn’t that how evolution works? you ask. The survival of the fittest? Trees would just shake their heads—or rather their crowns. Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well.”
– Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World
There’s an underlying sadness in Masefield’s poem emphasized by the first line. We grew on mountains where the glaciers cry. What a portrait of what once was… we were once this grand forest, now we’re the planks under your feet and the mast above. Such are the sacrifices for mankind. Forests regrow of course, but we all lose something by the loss of old growth trees. Wohlleben wrote that in the quote above; when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. The others aren’t just the other trees: they’re also us.