Nurse Log in the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park. These nurse logs take the same number of years to decay as they did to mature. A thousand year old standing tree lays on the ground for another thousand years before it recedes into the earth.
Two weeks ago I put down all my screens for five days. No technology. Letting go into the rain forest on the west coast of The Olympic Peninsula in Washington. After a couple days of unwinding my normal rhythms and apparent addiction to virtual stimulation of the internet, the dynamism of the wind gusts and the tidal forces came alive in the clearing. A thousand year old Sitka Spruce beckoned me. Coming into her atmosphere, I stood astonished at her massive girth and height. Quietly leaning again her, I began to absorb the story she was communicating.
Her huge body stood tall and weighty on an exposed root system, shaped like a giant spider wrapped around a huge invisible ball about ten feet in diameter. She rose out of the elevated hub of the spider’s downward arcing legs, atop an empty cavity. The roots themselves were the width of great trees, over two feet in diameter.
Adjusting my eyes to the dark forest, I began to notice other great ones standing in various stages of decay after centuries of mighty presence. Others ones, older yet, had fallen onto the thick mossy floor, decomposing, now offering their decay as nourishment to fungi and seeds who found fertile ground in their composting bodies. Salal, huckleberry, Large Leaf Maples, Red Cedars, Douglas Firs all grew skyward out of the same mother tree. As they matured, their roots grew around the “nurse log” and sunk into the forest floor.
I understood that the cavity underneath the spider-like system of giant roots, had once been a giant fallen tree that fed the one seed that became this great Sitka Spruce. Her mother tree eventually decomposed, leaving the space empty and her enfolding root system still wrapped around its absence. I stood in a linked system of time and life-support, knowing the Sitka herself would eventually fall, and form the ground for another generation.
A stream of understanding flowed into me, out of the dank complexity of the old-growth forest. These elders feed the young at the end of their lives. Yes, this makes sense for us humans, too. I pondered, further, might it be the same for societies that have risen, matured to their limits and decomposed? I felt myself a seed in the woody decay of Western Civilization, carrying a new expression of humanness, embedded more respectfully in the web of life.
What sensibilities await as we spend time away from our GPS systems, Siri, our iPhones, the techno web? David Abram, a blessed voice for our times, writes, “the more we participate with these astonishing technologies, the more we seal ourselves into an exclusively human cocoon, and the more our animal senses—themselves co-evolved with the winds, the waters, and the many-voiced terrain—are blunted, rendering us ever more blind, ever more deaf, ever more impervious to the more-than-human Earth.” (From Magic and the Machine)
May this new year include silencing our devices at times, in deference to the renewal of creaturely wonder, ancestral capacities, and respect for the more-than-human Earth that exceeds our grasp. Perhaps the next time you walk by a stand of oaks you will sense those trees sensing you. And the intricate filaments of mutual connection in every direction will brighten our one living whole.