Sunday, February 02, 2020

Reach for the Sky

Aspens, Santa Barbara Canyon, NM.
I love trees. Each one is an intricate marvel and an affirmation of life itself. Whether as the focus of photograph or part of the natural world they tell us we’re part of something bigger. And that we need each other.

Valley Oak, Santa Monica Mountains, CA.
This post about trees stems from choosing a subject for my next article in the March-April issue of Shadow and Light Magazine. In my last post I offered a lightly edited version of Leap of Faith which was my January-February contribution to the magazine.  This time I’m writing a piece about trees that I hope will become Reach for the Sky for the next Shadow and Light.  Come to think of it, Tim Anderson, the editor and publisher of the magazine, asked me to contribute based on my blog posts. He invited me because he thought my posts are succinct and get to the point. I hope that’s true.

Fallow pistachio farm, Highway 46, Keck's Corner, CA.

Palms, Desert Shores, CA.
Trees have been on my mind. Handsome cottonwoods and Russian olives shade our backyard. A willow frames the view from the kitchen door. Every time I drive the canyon leading south through Embudo toward Santa Fe I’m entranced by the stately cottonwoods that line the Rio Grande as it courses south toward Texas and Mexico. Foaming and fast at County Line, it slows to a stroll in Velarde, sandbars appear in EspaƱola and it’s a trickle by the time it reaches Mesilla and kisses the Texas border.

Pecan orchard, Mesilla, NM.
The 2019 Pulitzer Price novel Overstory by Richard Powers has moved me to appreciate these ubiquitous organisms that seem to populate our every view. His book makes my appreciation of trees seem trivial. They are wondrous and essential, yet their fragility has never been more apparent. There’s no guarantee that they’ll provide their beauty and oxygen for future generations. Quite the opposite. Already millions of acres of trees have been lost to drought, fires, logging and infestation. The Brazilian rainforest has been reduced by 20% and deforestation grew by 84% in 2019 over 2018. The earth’s lung is operating at 80% of its capacity of 50 years ago. President Bolsonaro has concluded that farming is more important than breathable air. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a big fan of fossil fuels, has made a corollary calculation that coal mining is more important than spewing the carbon dioxide into the air. And now Australia is readying to build the largest coal fired power plant in the world. Brazil and Australia are burning. We’re watching a preview of what’s ahead for our planet. Nero would be proud.

Pines in fog, Presidio of San Francisco, CA.
Powers first encountered the giant redwoods of California’s Coastal Range while teaching at Stanford and was duly impressed. But it was a hiking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee that launched him full tilt into Overstory. The Smokies, I learned from a television interview with the author, are the home to the last remaining old growth forest in the entire United States. So impressed was Powers that he decamped from Palo Alto to a hillside aery next to the Great Smoky National Park in Tennessee. I solo hiked in the Smokies back in 1978 and understand the appeal of the soft shouldered mountains and verdant glades. Though I remember even more vividly three sleepless nights jumping at every unidentifiable sound. Every noise was a black bear I was sure.

Bristlecone pine, Joshua Tree National Park, CA,
And like Powers, the first trees that made an impression on me were the redwoods at Muir Woods just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Shortly thereafter I camped among the giants at Camp Cazadero in Sonoma County. That was nearly 70 years ago and yet the memory was fresh when my son and I drove Highway 101 north to Fort Ross in 2017.

As told in the opening chapters of Overstory, the chestnut forest that populated the entire Appalachian chain is gone. A single survivor of the chestnut blight guarded the Hoel homestead in Iowa for generations. Mimi Ma, one of nine protagonists in the novel, sees that the small stand of trees outside her office window are scheduled to be cut down and before she can protest the city cuts down the trees in the dark of night. One by one, Mimi, Nick Hoel, Doug Pavlicek, a veteran who spent five years planting trees, and Olivia Vandergriff, who had a revelation about saving the them, join the fight to protect the remaining 3% of the redwoods. They are joined by Adam Appich, who is writing his thesis on environmentalists. These are the five essential characters who circles of life intersect in the fight to protect the redwoods from logging. They endure tragic consequences and their paths are changed forever.

Yes, I did say 3%.


Blacks Crossing said...

So glad to hear you are connecting with Tim and getting your writings published in Shadow and Light. They are most worthy, and your tree thesis will be chock full of symbolism and beauty. Your photographs of the pines in the Presidio and the pecan orchard in Mesilla are two of my all time favorites of yours, and I am glad they will be part of the representation. Another Monday morning enlivened because of your blog, Steve! Congratulations.

Paige W said...

Nice blog thanks for postingg