I am often asked by people who have read my most recent book, The God Presumption, if I really gift the bark of trees with dog kibble. Yes I do, even in the coldest of our New Hampshire winters; on my return from the early morning walk, I sometimes require half an hour in front of the wood stove to warm up my hands. (It is not possible to stick kibble into the bark of trees wearing gloves.) I choose different trees for different reasons, and I name them accordingly. For example, I have named a white pine along the trail I walk with our dogs, “the tree of extinction”, in honor and gratitude for so many species either already extinct, or heading that way rapidly. I honor trees I have named for members of my family with kibble. I honor the Great Grandfather, the Grandmother, and the Great Grandmother (who does not like to be disturbed with kibble before noon.
I am often asked why, “Why do you do it.”
That is a harder question.
I do it in order to deepen my relationships with trees, all trees, to honor and develop what I know is a cognitive resonance; I do it as a ritual of gratitude. Sometimes the kibble is a token of apology for the times I come into the woods angry or otherwise spewing toxic energy. No matter how I enter the woods, the pines and hemlocks, beech, maple, and oak continue to take energy from the sun and convert it to oxygen, so I and the rest of us can continue to breathe. I can only hope my own toxicity does not overwhelm.
I have been reading (for the third time) The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate ~ Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. It’s the quintessential book for people like me who love trees. Such a gift, that the science current science corroborates what many of us have known for lifetimes. I tell people that I could not have written The God Presumption without this book.
At the end of our trail, three times a day and near the edge of Tannery Pond, the dogs and I stop to look around. Three times a day, we pass underneath an old oak, who has lost her crown and more. The main trunk is riddled with the work of our pileated woodpeckers. What remains is a stout branch (maybe 14 inches in diameter) which emerges from this amputated tree whose destiny ultimately will be compost. The branch itself hangs low over the trail.
I looked at that branch for several years before I came to wonder about the likelihood of crashing on me or our dogs. They call them “widow makers” here. My husband Jim and his friend Tom walked down to the pond to see how they might bring that branch down, without, of course, bringing danger to themselves. We thought that in the spring, we would have to contract with an arborist.
On this day ~ it is a beautiful, sunny, warm(ish) winter day, the dogs and I are enjoying our noon walk, taking our time. We are walking the ridge, the snow of which – in the spring – will empty into two vernal pools, one on either side. I stop to feed kibble to the triumvirate of pine at the ridge’s peak, and we hear what sounds like an explosion. The ground seems to vibrate under our feet; the dogs and I are alarmed, but we don’t know which way to turn. For lack of a better idea, we continue along our ritual route. As we near the pond, I see that the oak branch has been severed from the main trunk, collapsing to the ground and bring neighboring trees to the ground.
The branch did not come down on us. I felt the safety of the woods that day; I felt the protection of the forest.
Reading too much into it?
I carry a different kind of knowing.
I am in a reciprocal relationship with the trees of the woods where we walk, the three dogs and I, grateful and a bit astonished by our knowing. I begin to understand at a deeper level what it means to awaken, what it means to be an integral part of the earth community.