PEOPLE WHO KNOW TREES AS KIN

Water Closet for July 21, 2017

“Trees have been shown in the last three decades to be sensitive and capable of communication.”

One of the wonderful things about life is that art keeps coming. An artist friend of the old Closeteer recently loaned him two books written by kindred souls that can be read together, a chapter by botanist-Indian naturalist Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass, and then one by brilliant and thoughtful forester Peter Wohllenben in The Hidden Life of Trees. Many short chapters allow this back and forth to go smoothly.   Both are superb writers with the discipline to avoid technical terms and scientific jargon. Both scoff at being accused of anthropomorphism. For them animals and plants are other beings and similar in many ways including much of the DNA code they share with us. Trees have been shown in the last three decades to be sensitive and capable of communication.1 Children and Indians have long believed this. Potawatomi Nation’s Kimmerer, comfortable among microscopes and test tubes, often leaves the lab, and ventures outside among living rocks and a network of organisms as her Indian ancestors did. “The world is alive with the sounds of music!” for them and us. Everywhere are the sounds of birds, insects, breezes, waves, thunder, and trees. We only have to listen.
Most important for us is that these authors are superb teachers. The Closeteer, trained in classical biology and other sciences, found these books up to date and very valuable reviews of what has been learned in natural science in the last quarter century. He hopes Kimmerer and Wohlleben have met and are connected through the “wood wide web.”

Bullfrog, water meal, duckweed, and lots of other organisms unseen below enjoy the rich soup of natural ponds. Contrast these living waters with the lonely chlorinated pools we make for ourselves. – Pamela Hartman photo

Nature magazine came up with “wood wide web” when publishing Suzanne Simard’s landmark paper in 1997.2 Forest ecologist Simard noticed in the early 1990s that birches seemed to be helping Douglas firs thrive. She delved deeply into the soil under these neighbors and found networks of root and fungal connections. Since then research has uncovered much more information about the interactions between soil fungi and plants. She writes in a note closing Wohllenben’s book: “Peter highlights these ground-breaking discoveries in his engaging narrative The Hidden Life of Trees. He describes the peculiar traits of these gentle sessile creatures – the braiding of roots, shyness of crowns, wrinkling of skin, convergence of stem rivers – in a manner that elicits an aha! moment with each chapter. His insights give new twists on our own observations, making us think more deeply into the inner workings of trees and forests.” While happily reading, the Closeteer, a daily wanderer among trees, experienced many “aha moments,” sometimes several per chapter. Walks among and thoughts about plants will never be the same for him.

One of the many artificial pools in the wealthy world that require upkeep, filters and chemicals to keep our fellow organisms at bay. – Pamela Hartman photo

Kimmerer has been immersed since birth in the woody www so well felt by Wohllenben and intimately known by Simard. In thirty-five lyrical chapters she seamlessly in moving ways braids modern science with Indian lore and beliefs. In a chapter called Mothers Work she tells of laboring year after year attempting to clean her half acre pond of algae and plants for a swimming pool for her two daughters. Mother Kimmerer pulls out thousands of rake loads of growth. Samples are taken to her laboratory where she identifies the algae and other organisms. For the Closeteer this story of her swimming pool project is the best over view of a pond’s yearly cycles he has read. Her living pond supports a myriad of organisms interacting and ever changing. She happily wades in her slowly improving pond but never quite gets it clear enough for her daughters. However, she understands the pond is naturally clean as she swims among the plankton and tadpoles. Her daughters grow up and move away but she keeps on cleaning for exercise, compost and to provide clear areas.
We humans are water bodies made of scores of different tissues interacting. She quotes her visiting sister who ties the pond project to humans. “Among the Potawatomi people, women are keepers of the water. We carry the sacred water to ceremonies and act on its behalf.” Her sister continues, “We carry our babies in internal tide pools and they come forth into the world on a wave of water. It is our responsibility to safeguard the water for all our relations.”
Hundreds of chlorine doctored pools dot the landscape of our suburbs. For air passengers who approach and leave Logan, they standout in striking aqua. Human beings swim in them alone or in groups devoid of other creatures. Yet nearby are swimmable ponds and rivers. We’ve left the natural water wide webs and know them not. Indirectly, gently, Robin Kimmerer and Peter Wohllenben reintroduce us.
In the tri-town area Stiles Pond and Ipswich River are just down the road. Visit them. Their waters are much more interesting than the new man-made pools. Bring along the books recommended here to read while drying out. Read in the shade of Peter’s trees by Robin’s richly populated water. These populations are connected, ours can again be too.
1 Example: Now during the present gypsy moth caterpillar infestation, affected trees are sending chemical signals through the air warning neighbors, which thicken leaf skins in response. In the ground roots of different trees and connecting fungi are communicating chemically while sharing food and water.
2 S.W. Simard, et al, “Net Transfer of Carbon between Tree Species with Shared Ectomycorrhizal Fungi.” Nature 388 (1997): 579-82.
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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`

Precipitation Data* for Month of: April May June July
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.53 4.06 3.95 3.89
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 6.53 4.87 6.08 2.0 as of July 13

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For July 13, 2017  Normal . . . 9.1 CFS     Current Rate . . . 39.8 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru June.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for July..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

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