Last fall I created a trail.
It started at the curve of the Cabin’s driveway and led uphill to a ridge, winding and turning past trees along the way.
A beautiful mat of bark I’d step across on my way up suggested the drama of a tree’s life cycle. It was as if the bare, dead red pine had shaken the pieces off all at once in a kind of frenzy.
When I brought Oliver for walks in the clearing beyond the ridge, it always stuck me as a threshold to a fairytale world, parklike, denuded of underbrush, just a beautiful blanket of brown leaves amid tall old trees, with some tenacious raspberry canes. Oliver gives chase to deer here, animals invisible to our eyes.
Today my access to that fairytale world was denied.
Gil told me that while I was out this morning and he was sitting at his desk, he heard a crash “that went on for five minutes.” It was sequential, he said, an explosion, then a crack, then another explosion.
A tree fell in the forest, and he heard it.
When we went up to investigate – amid swarms of excited mosquitos – we found half a dozen downed trees, all in a tangle.
And all across my path.
Gil’s theory: “the cherry fell on top of the maple. Now the maple’s all bent over, strung like a bow.” I could see the fresh split in its bark.
Oliver was exuberant, racing around, using the fallen limbs as a steeplechase. “The poetical character…lives in gusto,” said Keats. The dog just wouldn’t stand still.
And then, coming home, at the bottom of the hill I find a phenomenon that is the opposite of loud and crashing. A painted turtle had come to lay her eggs, stretching out her strong hind legs and silently clawing up the mud beneath our grass. We saw her as we left for the trail.
All she left was a hole the size of a silver dollar. No white, jellybean eggs.
I wonder if she heard the trees?
5 responses to “A Crash, Then Silence”
Wow. A close encounter with a falling tree can be a life-altering experience? Why was I spared? As the poet Rilke says, “You must change your life.” http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/archaic-torso-of-apollo/
Just before the 4th of July in 2008 I was sleeping in a yurt in a thickly forested campground along the Columbia River. Closely spaced cottonwoods, vine maples, big-leaf maples, Douglas firs, cedars, plums, cherries, alder, and a similarly varied, deep green understory separated the tents along the stream down at the bottom of the hillside. On the hillside itself the yurts were also surrounded by living walls of green. The canopy was so dense that sunlight could not penetrate.
The ground between trees and bushes was covered by broad and narrow leaved native plants and ferns. Under those grew the mosses. Any space that was not covered by the narrow road or frequented by feet was carpeted with life, including the turn-out that had been cleared of trees so cars could be parked. It was only there that grass struggled to grow. Grass loves sunlight, and this was not a good place for grass.
It was a nice, pleasantly warm night. Three of my kids were in the yurt with me in their own bunks. I was snuggled in a sleeping bag with my dog next to my feet, both of us snoozing away.
I awoke to the sound of silence.
When I go camping it’s not unusual for me to wake up if my subconscious hears something odd. All I could hear was the sound of the leaves being moved by the breeze and the stream burbling off down the slope. The dog raised his head.
Silence in the forest at night is unusual. Normally there’s the sound of mosquitoes, crickets and other bugs, owls, small birds murmuring to their little ones and nameless small creatures chirping and moving about. A stream chuckles along like a canvas behind a painting. This low jumble of sounds acts like a lullaby.
Silence means that all the creatures were holding still and listening. I took their hint and listened, too.
The silence was ended with an echoing deep, “pum-POWWW!!!” that merged into the groaning-squeaking-moaning of wood being tortured and the sound of hundreds of branches loaded with leaves being slapped together.
A tree was falling.
My mind raced because it sounded close. I could not tell which direction the sound was coming from! Was it on the hillside above us or on either side of us, or below us? Would it hit us or another yurt? I was uncertain if I should grab my shoes, kids, dog and run, possibly right under the tree that was falling, or just lay there. I was certain the yurt would not protect us, but stumbling around in the dark was not good, either. I quickly slipped on my shoes, flicked on the flashlight and went to the door. The dog stayed behind me as I shone my light into the dark. I couldn’t see anything moving anywhere.
It was blacker than pitch where my light did not touch. The only thing that told me something was amiss was the ongoing sound of that tree falling.
It was surprising to me that I heard no human voices. I wondered if anyone else was awake. Some people can sleep through anything.
There were the pops of smaller branches and the crashes of larger ones. The greenery made ocean-like crescendos and decrescendos as the trees pushed and grasped. All these repercussing and cascading sounds came in waves as the original tree and those around it succumbed to or resisted the pull of gravity and the force of the falling tree.
For a finale there was the basso profondo “FA-WHUMP-fa-shump-bump-pa-bump!” that announced the falling tree’s contact with the ground.
I began to relax. It had been close, but I still could not see any movement. The whole event, though it felt like it had taken half an hour, had lasted only about 5 minutes.
Things, perhaps leaves and small branches, continued to fall for another few minutes, but already the normal sounds of the forest were resuming.
All is well, all is well, sang the crickets. The dog went out, watered a bush and returned. Still no human voices could be heard. I leashed the dog and walked outside, dog in my wake, to inspect the roadway and the other yurts. All were free of loose leaves or branches, let alone a freshly landed tree. Henry startled a couple of does with fawns in the turn-out, but no one else was up. Good thing I had him leashed. Does can become dangerous if they are protecting fawns. I used the facilities. We both went back to bed.
In the morning I walked around with the dog until I found the tree. It had fallen just past where the road ended by my yurt. The root ball indicated that it’d had a shallow hold on the hillside. The closest it came to the yurt when it fell was less than 30 feet. It had been a 50+ foot alder and could have killed us. Its topmost branches just touched the road. I went down to notify the campground authorities that they had a downed tree to contend with.
Who knows why trees, with no assistance from us, suddenly find a need to lay down? I’m just glad it didn’t decide to knock on my door.
Reblogged this on TheSlashDash.
Too much rain? Always sad to lose trees… and more work to do. About that old question of whether there was a sound or not… (if no one heard it)… hahaha… though it has occupied scientific and philosophical minds for a long time… I’ve never understood that sort of debate.
I think the coyotes had something to do with it. They were partying until 5:30am this morning. They were trying to sing down the moon. Who knows. Maybe part of it fell on your cherry, then maple, and so on. Until the turtle decided to lay eggs and make a run for it.