‘Imagine you’re walking through a field. The sun is out, but it’s not too hot. The ground is soft underfoot, a mix of meadow grasses, wildflowers, ferns and other plants. Every so often you cross a small patch of bare soil and the rich smell of earth rises to your nostrils. Once, as you step over just such a patch, an acorn falls from your pocket out onto the ground.
Fate smiles on this lost nut. Its shell and cupule part ways and the seed inside finds a welcoming home. Over days and then weeks, perhaps months, it splits its testa and pushes its single green shoot up out of the soil, it sprouts two thick leaves and soaks up sunlight and carbon dioxide, turning them into energy and fibre. It grows and grows – from seedling to sapling to mature tree. It reaches high into the sky and spreads, the tallest living thing around for some distance.
That height invites birds on migration, offering welcome rest and respite on their north-south, south-north treks. These visitors have feathers coated in an oil that contains the reduced form of vitamin D. As the sun hits this oil, it irradiates the molecule, breaking the second bond and turning it into a full form of active vitamin D. Perched on the now-mature oak, the birds preen their feathers, ingesting the vitamin, which helps them fight off disease and produce a greater number of viable eggs. In the process, they dislodge seeds nestled in their plumage and caught in their feet. They excrete a few in their droppings, as well.
In short, embedded in the DNA of the tree is the ability to create the specific conditions necessary to give rise to a rainbow of species. Here, given time, is the bioplan for an entire forest contained in the genetic material of a single seed. Of course, I couldn’t watch this timeline play out firsthand. To understand how a tree sustains, and sometimes gives rise to, the forest around it, I had to work backwards from the forest itself.’
A wet spring day. Mild and full of promise, the greening of the earth was even more beautiful following the recent harsh, cold and snowy winter. I felt a quickening in my chest, an excitement that I hadn’t felt in a long while. I paused and stood outside the small stone church, smelling the damp earth, wondering if someone had already been busy in the gardens. New leaves thrust straight up, persistent and determined, and grew in bunches along the wet stones. Daffodils?
Birdsong was plentiful – red-winged blackbirds and robins for sure, I thought as I swept my gaze up to the lofty white pines standing majestically there beside the lake. The ice had just recently gone out. So wonderful, I thought, to see the lake breathing again. As if it too had felt constrained by the ice and snow of a long winter, and now burst out, flooding, rushing and joyously chuckling over the rocks and under the bridge to escape the quiet confines of the lake to the exciting release of the river.
(excerpt from “Encountering Saint Peter’s Church”, Monique Charlton, April 2023)
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