Recently in Old Canyon around Cheese Rock, a fallen Oak Tree took down some power poles and caused major traffic problems to residents.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around
to hear it,
does it make a sound?
Iâm always confused by this question. As am I by the chicken or the egg conundrum. But after decades of thought I deduce the egg came first, some swamp scum fertilized by a lightning strike, strange primeval chemical gas, or meteor shower. Perhaps an odd ancient creature ingested some strange seeds that set off a biological mutation that caused the âânot a chickenâ to lay the first chicken egg.
But back to the tree in the forest. Iâm sure that in the wild early days of this planet, before life, volcanos erupted, skies stormed, and trees fell. Just because animals with ears did not yet exist doesnât mean the violent vibrations of a world being formed and reformed didnât produce great climatic cacophony. In fact, maybe those sounds are still out there traveling through the universe and maybe someday weâll capture them and hear the birth pangs of our blessed planet. Or even the start of the whole shebang itself? Why do you think they call it, The BIG BANG?
I came home on a Thursday afternoon, passing through our laundry room and kitchen. Something seemed a bit different, but I couldnât tell what it was, couldnât put my finger on it. The cat is fine, sleeping, half in and half out of the little bed for which he is far too big.
All seems normal, the usual collection of clutter and squalor awaiting my attention; vacation suitcase still on the floor, bedroom drawers lazily only halfway closed as if a burglar had rifled through them and then thought, âWhy bother?â A beach towel hangs from a door, and yellow sunflower petals have fallen on the floor from an expiring bouquet. What says end of summer better?
The Beleaguered Husband is not home and oddly I find myself missing him. After all these years how can that be? It occurs to me that perhaps heâs left me a note. An endearing missive, a billet-doux addressed to âMy most excellent and lovely wifeâŚâ and wishing me a pleasant evening until we meet again. Indeed, yes, there is a note, scrawled quickly on a piece of scrap paper. I grab it, expectant. âLook out kitchen window! Tree fell down behind house.â It is only later that I note and am touched by the heart scribbled at the bottom.
I rush to look and there it is, a great branch cracked, lying like a mighty warrior brought down. And though I wasnât there to hear it fall, it did. Its carcass stretching halfway across the hillside coming to rest on a low retaining wall just inches from our house. It gently and politely only touching our roof and tickling our windows with its leaves. That was when I figured out what was different. The lighting. The tree now blocked the harsh glare of the sun through our un-curtained window, softening the view of the hardscrabble Topanga hill, dusty brown and barren except for poison oak and the spider-webbed mighty oaks with their gnarled trunks. Now there was greenery outside the window, for the canopy of the Oaks were still green. They had brought themselves, as if a small forest right to my window, as if Burnum Wood had come to Old Canyon and it was lovely to see.
Crashing trees are not uncommon in our community. I have heard the great sudden sound of a falling Oak, cracking, clashing, with a roar and thundering, which even after the sound ceases, seems to hang vibrating in the air. And those old Oaks somehow randomly casting off immense branches that perhaps have become a burden, too heavy, sapping up too much water or oxygen and dragging one down. If only we could, as well, shed and drop our cumbersome cargo: just let go the sad, angry divide in America politics, release the growing suspicion that absolutely everything is a scam, be freed from the face of Gary Busey, of war and men who wear shorts year-round.
Maybe the trees crash or drop their branches in accordance with our human condition? Perhaps they are in touch with the great collective consciousness of the people on the planet, their roots spreading and reading our health and balance as caretakers of Earth. If so, Iâm afraid we could be found sadly lacking.
Yet, I know the spirit of the Oak to be a loving, nurturing, magical entity. In Irish mythology it is seen as a gateway to another world. Here in Topanga in our own state park, we had a very special tree, Grandmother Oak. She was hundreds of years old and hollowed by fire and lightning. There was a way, when the children were young, to actually lift them up to an opening in the top of her trunk and let them crawl down inside the tree emerging through another space at the bottom worn smooth by the many children who had crawled there until they became too big and could no longer fit inside. How I wished I, as well, could have made that magical journey, but I was ever grateful my children were her guests. And just standing next to her I could feel the lingering enchantment, as if Merlin had recently been there, and might return at any time. But alas, just as magic can fade, so did Grandmother Oak, dying of drought in 2016.
Our fallen branch has rekindled my love for the Oak Trees and for their progeny, adorable acorns, autumn confetti, which can produce not only new trees but some of the very best of fairy and elf fashions.
I survey our hillside, the Oaks still standing, spreading proud and strong, keeping watch like sentries. When tracking the parent tree from which our branch had fallen, I am amazed yet not surprised to see on its trunk a wise, noble and unmistakable ancient face as plain as anything. I wonder if he would mind if we carved a heart with our initials on his trunk.
I hereby share his countenance in honor and appreciation of his ilk.