Tuesday, August 2, 2011
When a tree falls
On the walking trail, I let Murdoch off his leash and he runs ahead, his black shape disappears in the grasses that grow tall down the center of the path and along its edges. His tail becomes a flag to let me know where he is. I listen too; focus on the sound of his movements. Once out of sight I am sometimes able to tell where he is by rustling grasses, crashing underbrush, thundering feet over packed dirt.
This trail we walk every day used to be a logging road. In some spots it is still wide enough for a large truck to rumble through but mostly grasses and weeds have grown over the path, reclaiming the gray patches of exposed earth. Where grasses don’t grow, the ground is dried out by mid-summer, pale beige beneath the bright sky and zigzagged with cracks.
There is still some forest left, areas thick with trees and cooling shade, but in the spaces between are large tracts of land that were once plucked almost clean. These areas are filling in again with tiny trees and underbrush gone wild in an endless bath of sunshine.
I catch up to Murdoch when he stops to drink from a mud puddle on the edge of a slice of forest. The land opens up here, becomes a tumble of underbrush that rushes away towards the distant hills patchworked with green foliage. Odd trees still dot the landscape; they stand around like forgotten children on an empty train station platform. These remnants of what came before look a little lost, a little out of place. They are thin and tall, balsam mostly, with bottlebrush tops, broken and wind-worn. They seem brittle to me, sickly. I can’t believe they are still standing, these stragglers, but they sway in the wind and endure.
Murdoch trots ahead again and I am struck by the silence. Something has changed here. I walk slowly along the path, scan the landscape, and then I see it. A tree has fallen. Where once two trees stood, side-by-side, there is now only one.
I always heard those trees before I saw them, creaking and squeaking across the open space. They stood maybe an arm-span apart at their bases and leaned in to each other until they almost entwined near the top. Long yellow gashes stretched about a third of the way down each trunk where the bark had worn away. It always struck me as kind of funny that these two trees stood right on top of each other when there was such an expanse around them and I wondered if they were fighting for space or holding each other up.
I stop and look at the empty spot where that spindly tree stood. The tangled underbrush has swallowed it up and it is as though that tree has just ceased to exist. The sky looks bigger. A breeze rustles across the waist-high brush, perhaps the remaining tree sways, but I can’t tell, the creaking conversation is glaringly absent, and the landscape is completely changed.