A 21st Century

Be More Tree

‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a great thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself’.

William Blake.
Before a tree sheds its seed, it relies entirely on the work of external forces such as the wind or insects to help first with pollination. A forest in full bloom creates enormous clouds of pollen, in the midst of which there really is no telling which female flowers the individual tiny male grains will find. Once a pollinated seed falls to the forest floor, it relies on similar accidents of fate to provide the favourable circumstances needed to help with germination. Some seeds, such as bird cherries, are gobbled by birds only to be dropped once more from the sky in their own little neat packages of fertiliser, ending up almost anywhere.1

Warmed by the sunshine the following spring, a germinated seed hiding just beneath the forest floor emerges as a young sapling. This can grow only so tall, before it is forced to wait patiently once more, for a large enough hole to open in the canopy high up above. Then finally, perhaps as dawn breaks following a particularly heavy storm, serendipity provides a chance for a new race towards the light to begin.

Similarly throughout history, cultural movements first have to survive a similar lottery of multi-stages, before fate hands them an opportunity to thrive. Some movements might sit out of sight indefinitely, waiting for centuries for just the right circumstances to find them, and at last set them free.

A young sapling beginning its own journey towards the sky may well be in competition with those around it for a share of the same sunlight, but it does not fight or confront them directly. For the most part, it focuses on itself, searching only for the nutrients it needs to ensure its own strength and continued growth. A tree will always work with the dice it is thrown, and most certainly will never regard as illegitimate the growing conditions that fate provides. Even if that means settling for a life clinging to a crack at the top of a steep cliff,
it will still have a damn good go.

Parent trees protect their youngsters in the forest around them by shielding them from the worst of the wind and the rain. Despite the overwhelming evidence today that suggests capitalism isn’t in such good shape. For the time being at least, a young movement embracing a more sustainable future, can help itself by growing close enough to its parents to still benefit from the shelter provided. Securing longevity may begin with accepting a few short-term contradictions. For one, a Sustainable Movement needs sufficient time to put down strong enough roots of its own to provide long term stability, before it can fully take on the long list of unpredictabilities provided by this world.

Only slow growth provides a trunk strong but flexible enough to cope with all these forces. Meanwhile, fallen giants such as Modernism provide much-needed inspiration to their younger relatives still at the start of their own lives – just the same way that decaying logs on the forest floor hold vital nutrients, including large quantities of water, and continue to provide for the next generation long after they expire.

A forest full of complementary trees works together, sharing information and food in a complex network deep underground. Their reasons to be social and help each other out are just the same as our own – a single tree after all is not a forest, and a tree growing alone cannot establish a consistent climate. Many trees together can create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of temperature, stores huge amounts of water and generates its own humidity. As the experienced forester Peter Wholleben observes: ‘In this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.’2

The trees which thrive to live the longest will always find a way of constantly adapting to their unique living conditions. Some will spread their roots far and wide in the search for water. Others will literally change the direction in which they grow overnight, causing a sharp kink in their trunk as they search for light.3 The distinctive shape created, illustrating the path of progress as it is experienced.

Perhaps a tree might not survive if its branches fail to find enough sunlight, or if its roots struggle to secure a strong enough foothold on unfavourable ground. But there’s still a chance that same tree might live just long enough, to drop its own valuable seeds into the valley below.

Next ︎
Chapter 23 —
An Ending – A Beginning

Credits & Notes

1 – 2
Peter Wohlleben
The Hidden Life of Trees
William Collins (2017)

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