photo by Sheri Dixon

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Bill Nye Never Told You

Even the trees are too hot to move.


Trees don't move? Of course they do.

No no no, not the really slow deliberate movements of growing taller, sending roots deeper, branches wider, leaves or needles individually and en masse forming, unfurling, collecting chlorophyll, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, wearing out, changing color and silently falling to the ground in their never-ending role to make our atmosphere breathable (thank them very much), I'm talking about their other movements.

The Dancing.

I was about 8 years old and we were driving in the car about sundown. I was tired, and gazing out the window while dozing off and on and as the scenery passed by (actually we were passing the scenery but when you're almost asleep and 8 years old the world moves around you, not vice versa) I couldn't help but notice against the soft velvet backdrop of the dusking sky

The trees were dancing.

Bending, stretching, graceful and joyous together with each other there was rhythm and cadence and ebb and flow from the limber lumber of the branches to every single one of the shimmering quivering whispering leaves, and I smiled to myself because of what I now knew.

The wind is caused by the movements of trees.

Of course the next day I told my mother what I had learned and was told that was silly- the wind is caused by the rise and fall of atmospheric pressure and the rising of hot air pushing against the falling of cooler air coupled with the constant movement of the earth turning and a whole lot of other scientific gobbletygook that sounded sensible until you really take a good look at the trees and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LOOKIT 'EM- THEY'RE DANCING, DAMMIT.

But she never listened.

There was a book back in the '70's- The Secret Life of Plants- that was all about plants having...perhaps not feelings like you and me, they have no eyes or ears or brains after all (I'm not a nutcase- sheesh), but an awareness that comes with life, with being alive. It had chapters on putting electrodes on plants and showing they registered alarm or comfort depending on what was being done to them...

...but it said not a word about the dancing of the trees, which I thought was strange.

When I had my own children- three of them- I explained to each one in turn that the wind is caused by the movement of trees, and all three patiently explained to me what really causes the wind despite my ever-so-logical answers to their (kinda snarky and pointed) questions aimed at poking a hole in my theory.

"Why do you say that, mom?" Because unless the trees are moving, you don't see the wind blow, now do you?

"What about where there are no trees? It's windy on the prairies". Ahhh...because it's not just the trees that dance- all plantlife dances. Just because their feet can't move doesn't mean they can't dance. Every blade of grass can dance.

"OK, Mrs. KnowItAll- what about across the oceans?" Ever drop a pebble in the water? Same principle- once the air is in motion, it will tend to stay in motion, geez I thought you kids were more scientifically learned than this.

That's when they'd change the subject, clearly at a loss because at that point they had nuthin'. Their schmancy books and teachers had never told them about the dancing trees.

I suspect because if we thought about it too much, really believed that they're more than fibrous growths to be harvested for toilet paper and houses and paper and boxes we'd feel just a little squidgy about how wantonly we abuse them.

We live in a log house with an entirely wood interior. It has an energy and a secure feeling to it that comes only from being surrounded by trees, and we silently thank it every single day for sheltering us. We abide literally inside the trees and absorb the strength, the calm, the peace and permanence of them.

Outside, seen through every open uncovered window, close enough to touch are trees- pines, cedars, oaks, dogwoods, sweetgums from knee-high saplings to 100ft gentle giants who were here a century ago they press in on us, shielding us from the road and the 2 other houses in the distance.

The sun has dropped below the tops of the cedars on the west side of the house and the treefrogs and assorted bugs and tiny birds rustle and shake off mid-day lethargy on the creek bank to the east of the house, testing wings and voices for a nighttime serenade as old as the planet but as different as each fleeting beating heart.

Slowly, languorously, the very top leaves at the very tops of the trees start twitching, nudging the ones next to and below them and the tippy tops of the trees begin to sway.

One by one the branches join in from top to bottom, tips to trunk. The smaller undergrowth trees are more flexible- little fishes darting among the whales.

The trees are dancing,

and we welcome the breeze.

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