I’m not a big forest person, more your empty horizon kind of woman, but my “church” is an old Colorado Juniper and my best painting so far is a painting of a tree, so you see it’s not from any antipathy toward trees at all. Not that I don’t like forests; I do, it’s just that sooner or later I want to see the WHOLE sky.

As a kid I hiked in a forest that lined the Missouri River. It was all trees all the time, varieties I can’t even identify now because I was too young then to have or develop the skills, but there were oak, black walnut, mulberry, sumac, some pine, willow, cottonwood and godnose what other hardwood trees never appeared again in my life

In the Laguna Mountains in California, the second leg of most of my hikes involved a leisurely stroll through a grove of Jeffry Pine I called “the Enchanted Forest.” The trees stood tall and straight above a grassy field that sloped slowly toward a ravine. Tall trees were one of the sweet wonders of that hike. In the compilation below, you can see it in the middle photo of the top row.

Along the coast, though, the only tall, native trees were native oaks and sycamore with willow and cottonwood sprinkled in Riparian areas. I learned hiking in the coastal chaparral hills to see things in miniature; the landscape was even called ‘the elfin forest.” If I let my imagination see this, I could imagine very very tiny beings (well there are some very very tiny beings) leading arboreal lives among the Wild Lilac (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus). I even found a 9 inch “Half Dome” that a very tiny climber would have struggled to climb. Seriously. It looked very much like that famous rock in Yosemite.

While the San Luis Valley isn’t really “burdened” with trees, along the edges, in the mountains, pine and aspen do their jobs cleaning the air and providing shade and food (and hiding places).

We owe trees everything, and, it seems, (who’s surprised?) that trees communicate with each other.


Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and battlegrounds for survival of the fittest.

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes that idea. It shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.


The scientist who’s posited this lives in Europe where forests are (to me) different from the forests of the “new world” at least they feel different to me. In the forest of Zürich’s “home mountain,” the Zürichberg, below the Zoo, above the Glatt was/is an enormous tree that seemed to be the grandfather of everything. His branches reached so high that, though the forest was dark, light reached the ground. Under his spreading branches, new trees had the chance to grow and shade-loving wildflowers. All around, though, were pine needles and shadow. The only things growing in those forever-shaded places were amanita muscaria mushrooms, beautiful but dangerous to eat. I put that tree in my book Martin of Gfenn. I’ll share that passage since I don’t have a photo of the Grandfather Tree.

[Martin] came upon a tree that had outreached the competitive struggle of the maple, birch and pine behind it. A magnificent giant with a wide trunk of lucent green, awash in light, its lowest branches so far above the lower growth that they pulled sunlight to the wildflowers on the forest floor. Martin sat with his back against the tree. Above the highest branches, blue sky faded to lavender.

11 thoughts on “Treed

  1. Lovely description, I can see Martin sitting there under the magnificent branches that “pulled sunlight to the wildflowers”. As much as I have come to love my big empty here, my natural habitat is the woods.

  2. The picture labeled “me” looks like a pointillist painting. I love it. The paths in the photos below that (one disappearing into the trees, one running along the edge of the meadow) draw me in. I’m more of a forest and forest edges person than you are. I want to follow those paths.
    The aspens in Colorado are often a single organism spreading for miles, with each tree sprouting from the same interconnected root system. In “The Word for World is Forest”, Ursula K. LeGuin posits a world in which the dominant species are trees and communicate over long distances. The humans who land on this planet slowly discover the nature of the world they have found.

    • I am kind of an anomaly thanks to 30 years in California. I like every landscape. I’m equally drawn by a forest trail, a road into the Big Empty. a walk on the beach, a trail in the coastal chaparral and meandering trails through European forests. If I learned anything in the course of my life (and sometimes I wonder) it’s that all of nature is a smaller or larger repetition of patterns and part of the wonder is in the discovery of those patterns. The pointillist effect in that picture is a combination of autumn leaves and a very old slide. I like it, too. I wish humans WOULD learn that the word for the world is “forest” in whatever scale it presents itself.

  3. I love the look of “your” tree! I have always liked trees. At my grandmother’s house there was a very old and very large Basswood tree that I would sit under. It had several trunks and one was bent making it a perfect spot for a small child to rest…Such happy memories. I hope all your tree encounters are likewise happy ones!

  4. I too love the big empty.

    My childhood was spent in the high desert of southeastern Idaho, so you can imagine my shock when we moved to the verdant jungle of northeastern Connecticut when I entered middle school (my dad worked for Bechtel and we moved to wherever the work happened to be). I’ve been stuck in the green tunnels here on the east coast ever since – though Cindy and I are committed to moving to the big skies of Montana once she retires in the not too distant future.

    • Montana is paradise. My family is from there. When I retired I didn’t move there because the days are so short in winter and housing prices were more than I wanted to pay. I LOVE southeastern Idaho. I drove through it once and thought it was amazing. Where I live now has skies that are 95% like Montana’s which was one reason I fell in love with it.

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