City Girl Explores Roots: Pt 1
I once attempted to shimmy up an oak trunk that towered over the power lines across the street from the little ranch-style home in which I was raised. My gangly arms couldn’t hold myself up and the textured bark eventually stripped under the weight of my toes. As I slid down, my shirt slid up, and by the time I reached the ground my little belly was rubbed raw.
Mom snipped a leaf from her aloe plant, and smoothed its gel over my wounds. I realize this anecdote would work better if aloe was a tree rather than a succulent shrub (to be a tree, one must be a self-supporting, woody, perennial, single stem capable of growing more than 20 feet from the ground), because then I could be like, “I mean–TREES! The RANGE!! They are big and fun and scary and they can HURT you but oh my GOODness look at their HEALING properties!!” Which, by the way, is all true, just not in this particular example.
The woods behind my house in Maine taught me firsthand about the wild. (My mom put the TV in the garage every summer–I had no choice but to relish in outdoor activities!) I recall so many un-technical learnings from my childhood. I knew which were the best to climb, which ones offered solace from the sun-burned afternoons, which ones lent themselves to jumping into the pile of autumn-colored leaves that I'd just raked up below. I remember how badly I wanted to peel every birch I saw, but tried very hard to heed my mother's warning about how it leaves them vulnerable.
After graduating from college, I fled to NYC, in search of "real" excitement. Two years later, the lesson had been learned. Both excitements are very real, and one, for me, is much more sustainable. I didn't run back to my roots, but I did transplant to Los Angeles, where I could have it all (gridlock AND nature!) When I need to escape, I find water, valleys or Redwoods.
I recall Jackie often running to the ocean when life took too many of her layers too quickly; she liked to remind herself that she was tiny, especially when the world weighed heaviest. Trees have the same capability–whether you consider their size, famed resilience or even just the AGE of some of these things.
As we delve into trees here at Wilderwork Studio, I'm learning as I write. We're side by side, you and me. The process is incredibly technical: Jackie sends me quippy factoids, I simultaneously read, laugh and type furiously into Google's search bar, and you have the joy of reading this incredibly charming regurgitation. If I'm a bird, you're a bird. Now let's get into it.
Rewind real quick to 360 MILLION years ago. Say hello to the Carboniferous era. (That’s where that common expression “everything’s bigger in Carboniferous” comes from.) SO MUCH good, rich, carbon-saturated dirt got made from mosses and ferns living and dying in the 40 million years prior, that these suckers were really GROWING now.
Take Lepidodendron (“club moss”), for example. 120 feet tall. “Stems” 3 feet in diameter. Pfft. Some gentle perspective, my friend. Before you get attached, please understand that while our beloved Lepidodendron is extinct now, its modern really-great grandkids (Lycopodiopsida) stand at a humble three inches tall (pictured above). Weenies, sure, but indeed we all are.
What did manage to stay pretty tall after emerging in the Carboniferous period is our known-and-loved conifer (cone-bearing!). Contrary to conifer belief, trees aren't necessarily deciduous (leaves fall off, seasonally) OR conifers. Most conifers retain their needles, sure, but deciduous conifers exist and from here on out they WILL be recognized!
FUN FACT: The oldest tree on Earth is a Spruce called Old Tjikko (she lives in Sweden) and
just turned 9 thousand five hundred and 50 years old (we think). Hope you didn’t miss her birthday again–what are you even USING Facebook for at this point?
Here's a little sum'n for my ladies and learners who want to impress their plant-forward (or otherwise) peers. A little throwback, if you will. Convergent evolution. Remember? You learned this in elementary school, then perhaps again in more detail during some college-level biology elective that you took for the easy credit but discovered a week in that it would actually require EFFORT and STUDYING and now you can't drop because the material fascinates you to your very CORE? Convergent evolution is when UNRELATED species evolve toward the SAME answer to the SAME problem. A bunch of growing things needed to find more light so they had to grow taller. To grow taller they had to grow stronger (woody stems). Boom. A buncha TREES.
Convergent evolution is humbling, really. I mean, we all have needs and overall, they aren't so different from one another. Maybe you'll take this little slap of science and turn it into a little more compassion for your neighbor, who is probably doing their best to fulfill these needs in their own special way. I said maybe!
Trees are powerful (get what they want). They’re strong (have no problem serving as a bear's back scratcher). They have incredible range (Scarlett Johansson could never). And, they have been around for millions of years and managed not to destroy their habitat. Maybe it's time we start taking notes. (Please get your notebooks ready for next time.)