|oaks holding leaves through Winter|
Photo by J. Harrington
An obvious but partial answer came when I realized that I like to breathe and trees help produce the oxygen I need. I enjoy watching the squirrels and birds at the feeders. Without trees to provide perches, shelter and a modicum of safety to squirrels and birds, Winter could become birdless and squirrel-less and very dreary. Mosses grow on the fallen trees, offering patches of green before Spring and leaf-out arrive. Tree leaves and trunks help feed fungi (mushrooms) of which a variety grow on the property and offer challenging identification puzzles.
The oaks, on a good year, drop acorns as forage for the deer and turkey that wander through. If they weren't around, I'd miss them mightily. Tree roots help hold our Anoka Sandplain soils in place and the forest duff and the soils help clean the rain and snow melt as it feeds groundwater that ends up in our well or flows to one of the local rivers we enjoy watching and walking along. Without potable water, we wouldn't be able to live where we do, and without rivers we probably wouldn't want to live here anyhow.
|Winter sunrise through the trees|
Photo by J. Harrington
It's not always Winter and snowing in Minnesota, although it's beginning to feel that way. In the Summer, trees provide shade to help cool the house. Trunks and shade offer opportunities to just sit and watch, a practice I should follow more. Now, if I needed lumber to make a shelter, or firewood to keep warm, it might be worthwhile chopping down one of the "useless" trees. If I did so, it would be a good idea to acknowledge that I'm trading lumber or firewood for shade and clean water and all those other services provide for free by "useless" trees. That might be a worthwhile trade for one or two trees, but not if they were all cut down. Deserts don't have many trees growing in them. (Have you ever read Frank Herbert's Dune?)
I'm not comfortable putting a dollar value on ecosystem services because I'm not convinced they are all fungible, nor am I convinced dollar values can be put on the pleasure of watching birds, listening to owls at night, watching moonrise through the branches and a variety of other services trees and water and other natural functions give us for the asking and a little attention. On the other hand, I was clearly way off base with my initial perspective that, since they didn't offer an immediate material or economic value, my trees were useless.
Learning the Trees
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learnThe language of the trees. That’s done indoors,Out of a book, which now you think of itIs one of the transformations of a tree.The words themselves are a delight to learn,You might be in a foreign land of termsLike samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—And their venation—palmate and parallel—And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.Sufficiently provided, you may nowGo forth to the forests and the shady streetsTo see how the chaos of experienceAnswers to catalogue and category.Confusedly. The leaves of a single treeMay differ among themselves more than they doFrom other species, so you have to find,All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”Example, the catalpa in the bookSprays out its leaves in whorls of threeAround the stem; the one in front of youBut rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.It may be weeks before you see an elmFanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,Little by little, you do start to learn;And learn as well, maybe, what language doesAnd how it does it, cutting across the worldNot always at the joints, competing withExperience while cooperating withExperience, and keeping an obstinateIntransigence, uncanny, of its own.Think finally about the secret willPretending obedience to Nature, butInvidiously distinguishing everywhere,Dividing up the world to conquer it,And think also how funny knowledge is:You may succeed in learning many treesAnd calling off their names as you go by,But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.