The sister of some friends had been living with cancer for years. Last week, they separated: the cancer went its way, and she went God’s.
The end was no surprise, and she chose to spend her final days driving with her husband through the autumn foliage of New Hampshire.
She was an artist and no doubt felt at home in the fiery beauty of the season, but the peace and mystical reassurance of the forest might have attracted her as well.
Like Jesus in Gethsemane, among the trees seemed to be a good place to prepare for death.
Maybe it is something in our limbic brain, a faint memory that, like thousands of species today, the woods were once home to our arboreal ancestors.
Maybe it’s the chlorophyll in the leaves that helps them process light into food. It can’t use the green in the spectrum and reflects it back, giving leaves their color and bathing the forest in faint green light that just happens to be appealing and calming to the human psyche.
Perhaps it is easier to take one’s leave among the elders of life, and trees are certainly that. The longest-living organisms on earth, many will live to be hundreds of years old.
Old Tjikko, a spruce in Sweden, was around over 9,500 years ago when we were still Stone Age toddlers.
No tree will die of old age, and we may not be meant to, either.
It’s consoling to know that there is much more to the forest than meets the eye.
Despite the thick trunks and towering crowns, there may be twice that biomass hidden in the ground in an invisible network of roots and fungi.
This organic web not only provides the water and nutrients a tree needs to grow, but using the tiny fungal fibers that penetrate the roots, trees share information and provisions through it.
A tree in distress from disease or prey warns other trees to be on the alert. Healthy trees help sick or young trees by delivering needed carbon or nitrogen through the network.
Trees create a biosphere in which life is abundantly and diversely shared. Grab a handful of that sweet dark humus at the base of a tree and you are holding in your hand more life forms than there are people on this crowded rock.
Maybe my friends’ sister went to the woods because she found it to be “on earth as it is in heaven.”