Karma

Once upon a time, two tree guys met in an arborist supply store In West Chester, PA. Dave was local, John was not. As is not uncommon among peers, they got to chatting about business. It turned out that John was from a college town, up in the middle of the state. “Hey,” said Dave, “do you know Bill up there?”

“Oh. That guy,” said John. “He’s a hacker.”

This rather amused Dave, for Bill had shown him many essential techniques of the job, from tree climbing to rigging, to the finer points of felling. In fact, they still worked together sometimes and enjoyed each other’s company. Must not be the same Bill, thought Dave. Next time he and Bill were on a job together, they had a good laugh about “Bill the Hacker.”

Fast forward about thirty years. John was doing a job across the street from Bruce, who happened to be Bill’s financial advisor. Bruce was an ex-Marine, if there is such a thing. He had a plot of ground, several acres of woods, where he had felled a good number of trees, so he had some knowledge of felling and things tree.

The job across the street progressed to where the crew was ready to drop the stub. The brush was off and chipped. The crew built up a landing area made of branchwood to protect the sidewalk from the stub’s impact. John put a notch is the stub, to make it fall towards the pile of branchwood. Bruce, standing on the sidewalk across the street watching, piped up.

“That’s not going to land on your crib,” Bruce said.

“Oh yes it will,” huffed John. “What do you know about cutting a tree down, anyway?” Bruce hummed a little tune to himself. It was the sort of whimsical tune that went “ignore me if you want to, but I think I’m right.”

“All right,” John barked at the crew. “You guys take the rope down the hill towards the branchwood.” He went to work on the back cut. He pounded in two wedges for insurance. The men pulled. The tree started forward. It picked up speed. It landed with a thump that shook the neighborhood. About five feet to the right of the branchwood. Bruce shook his head ever so slightly, clicked his tongue and tsked, turned and walked back into his office, returning to his present life as a financial guy. A stream of profanity directed at the errant tree, his men, the powers that be followed Bruce as he shut the door. Today, there are three new squares of concrete in the sidewalk.

Six months later, Bruce related the incident to Bill, who chuckled and told Bruce about  his official title as Bill the Hacker.

“Karma bites,” said Bill. After a pause, he added “lest I get too cocky and suffer a similar fate, there but for the grace of god go I. Anybody can have a bad day. Even someone who’s not a hacker.”

Another Day in a Branch Office

(Note: when I was about 8, I got a comic in my piece of Bazooka bubble gum. They always had a fortune at the bottom of the comic. Mine that day was “if you become a tree surgeon, you will work in a branch office.”

I got a call from a guy a little while ago. He has a camp on Bear Meadows Rd, along the (usually) sunny banks of Galbraith Gap Run. Being in the bottom like that, it has its measure of adelgified hemlocks. Among that measure, are a number which couldn’t make the payments, the adelgids having extracted too much in rent for the hemlocks to afford. So they’ve gone out of business. Given up the ghost. Perished. As McCoy said “He’s dead Jim.” Bottom line is that there were many units of dead hemlocks, some of which were threatening his electric line. Eight, to be exact. Fortunately, there were an elbow birch and an elbow white oak added to the list, so the Bermuda Triangle of eight trees was avoided.

A few of the hemlocks could be wedged. A few needed the assistance of the come along. The elbow white oak went up thirty feet and elbowfied leftwise, about five feet above the powerline. It stood almost next to an intermediate power pole, which had a guy wire to keep it standing up. The tips of the white oak rested on a live hemlock about forty feet away. I gave him a price for the hemlocks. I’ll throw in the elbow birch for free, I said. You get the power company to come drop the line, and I’ll drop the elbow white oak for another $50. You set up the appointment with them, and let me know when it is. I’ll be there.

The thing about the electric company is that their scheduling is a mystery to those not involved in their process. Shoot. Maybe even for those who are involved in their process. You call their 800 number and do battle with their automated answering system. The option to speak to an operator does not arise until the caller has yanked out a minimum of half their hair. I’m not sure how that works for people who have shaved heads. Perhaps they’re just completely out of luck. Either way, the electric company has a hair print on file and they can tell by the vibrations the caller is emitting, the exact moment when hair loss has reached an acceptable threshold. Then they put you through. Mr. Burns, the camp owner, persevered and at long last spoke to the nice forester person. The nice forester person explained that they would come to the camp to assess the problem, and if the tree and the line met the requirements of paragraph 3, subsection IV, articles 2-5 of their guidelines, he’d call Mr. Burns and schedule the work.

It was Monday he called. Thursday, he said. They’ll drop the line on Thursday.

It’s going to rain in a very meaningful, sincere, wet, and potentially doggish and cattish sort of way on Thursday, I told him. There was a pause.

Do you want me to cancel? he asked. I thought a minute.

Nah. Let’s just go with it, I said. It’ll only take me a couple of minutes. He can put the wire back up and not even have to return this afternoon.

He’ll be there between 8 & 8:30, said Burns.

Tuesday, we had one of those days when everything went twice as fast as planned. Not common, but irrefutable evidence that it can happen. I called Burns.

Hey, I said. We got done with our job early. We’ve got time we could go up to the camp.

That’d be fine, he said. See you about 1:30

In short order, we had the eight hemlocks on the ground. I slew the elbow birch and a large hemlock that had broken off, perhaps in the same wind that elbowfied the white oak. And I notched the white oak. I did the usual plunge cut and formed up the hinge. All I would have to do on Thursday in the rain was release the strap at the back of the tree and the job would be done. By the time Burns showed up, we were packing up the gear.

Seven thirty rolled around Thursday morning, and the rain was indeed mixed with the occasional cat or dog, just like when it’s trying to make up its mind whether to rain or snow. I dumped all the ropes and other stuff that gets disgusting when it’s wet, on the garage floor. I pulled up to the camp a few minutes till eight. The Power Guy (PG) was already there.

Burns was there too. He told the power guy the plan. Power Guy looked at the elbow white oak. Never work, he said.

I don’t know, Burns said. This guy is pretty good.

Then I showed up, grabbed my saw and did the windmill on the algae covered board deck of the bridge across the creek to the camp- -you know, that funny little dance you do on a slippery surface when your feet can’t get ahold of anything and your arms are flailing around at ninety miles an hour as you try to keep from biting the figurative dust. I managed to stay on my feet. Power Guy got out of his truck and brought his gear across the bridge. He leaned his ladder very precisely against the end of the camp. He climbed up and pulled a pair of bolt cutters out of his ditty bag. Snip. Snip. He put a little wad of super-duty electrical tape in the ends of the wires and snipped the ground wire. The wires fell to the ground.

You didn’t pull the fuse at the pole, did you? I asked.

Nope. This works great as long as there’s no bare spots in the service line.

Well, it’s wet enough today you’re not going to start a fire.

No. We’d burn up the transformer instead. That plan you’ve got, that’ll never work, he said.

Ah, I said. It’s an old trick I call eight ball in the side pocket. The tree wants to fall this way. It just doesn’t know it. And Power Guy coiled the wire up by the pole.

That out of your way enough? He asked.

Let me put it this way, I said. If I hit it there, I’ve got other problems and I did something I shouldn’t ought to have. I started my saw. With a zip and a zing, the tab at the back of the tree was cut. The tree fell forward. The elbow neatly settled around the guy wire (which is very different than the wire guy).

Huh. I’ll be danged, said PG. Guess it will fall that way.

Well, I said, I don’t do anything that can’t be done. Just another day in a branch office.

Working on Loneliness

One of the lessons from a class at Earlham School of Religion: There are ways I am like all others; there are ways I am like some others; there are ways I am like no other. While your experience is indeed unique to you, you share this isolation induced loneliness with many, if not all. In some way, it is a bond with all. I recently wrote to another friend that loneliness is like a predator. It separates us from the herd and then it takes us down. Awareness gives us an edge to grip so that we can begin to work on the problem.
Know that you are loved. Not for your potential, or who you were supposed to be. You are loved, warts, sores, bumps, Light and all, exactly as you are. No matter what! Imagine being held, hugged, in those arms that comforted you and know that it was Spirit reaching out to you.
I cannot pretend to understand, but my experience is that I must be brought low to slip free of the deceptions of the world. There is a time and a season to all things under heaven (Ecclesiastes): There is a time to be strong and practical; there is a time to be “weak” and irrational. In the best counterintuitive nature of faith, strength is (often) found in weakness.
There is no shame in tears offered in grief. They can wash the sky of our souls clean. They can give us the strength to face the work before us.
There was a time, many years ago, when I got my index finger caught in some gears at the sawmill. It earned me a trip to the ER. I was largely stoic. My nerves had not yet figured out their trauma, so there was not yet physical pain. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to go rafting (on the Cheat). Slowly, the tears built within me until they erupted in a loud wail. The doctor was nonplussed. What’s wrong? he asked. Pain? No, I answered. I’m tired of being tough. I’m tired of being strong.

Tree Flowers (again)

Judy’s dad likes to grow miniature orchids, along with the regular ones. When he first opened them (Quaker-speak) to me, I realized a couple of things. Beauty is not related to size. In some ways, the concentration of beauty into a miniature can make it even more intense. A second realization was that we often are unaware of the beauty around us, metaphorically as well as literally. The flowers quietly go about their reproductive activities, whether we notice their beauty or not.
Beauty is present on several levels, as well, from macro to micro. We drive down the road and we see a puff of white against the side of the mountain: serviceberry, dogwood, sweet cherry. We are often unaware of the beauty on the micro-level. Besides Judy’s dad & the orchids, I think my interest in looking closer was sparked by the fact that the showy part of a dogwood flower isn’t the actual flower, but bracts. So I went looking for the actual flower. Then I realized that if it had a seed, it had a flower (angiosperms and all) and that there were a lot of plants with seeds whose flowers I had never seen. The search was on.
Then there was the question, from observing oak catkins, of “how do you get a nut from that?” Of course there are many flowers with both anthers & calyx. But many plants (as you likely know) who have a male flower and a separate female flower. And ornerier even yet, those with separate plants for male & female… Ginkgo comes to mind. Sooo… you don’t get an acorn from a male flower, which brought me to the fact that I’d never seen the female flower… of many trees, oak among them. Fortunately, they’re all right down the hall from my (branch) office.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2)

Redwood

The flight out to San Francisco was uneventful, except that the 767 was nearly empty. Covid-19 anxiety. We took off from Philly at 8, landed in San Francisco at eleven. Six-hour flight. You do the math. But there it is. They’ll make up for it on the return trip. We’ll get those three hours back says Timekeeper. Just you wait and see. Matter can be neither created nor destroyed. By now, time is a form of matter, I suspect.

Went to the Safeway on my way to the air bnb. No bread. No cleaning supplies. Lots of bare shelves. More Covid anxiety, except San Francisco was one of the original hot spots. So it was more like anxiety with a side dish of frenzy. California always wants to be first with any new trend. Too bad that’s not always such a great thing. I wound up with brioche for my peanut butter and jelly. Only in CA, except not. Panic is country wide. We’re all “home sheltered.” CDC has decreed gatherings of more than 10 people are a bad idea. So we’re all supposed to work from home, except that doesn’t work very well with trees. Bar tenders are out of work. Restaurants and stores are closed. Spending on anything but food has ceased. The economy has seized. The stock market is in furry[1] fall. To spend a day in the woods with a few other people climbing a redwood may be the best way to retain sanity.

I was stalking the weather, as I often do. The extended forecast on Weather World made it look like Monday might be rainy. I don’t like climbing in the rain. The climb was on, no matter the weather. The list said to bring raingear. It rained most of Sunday night, and was still at it when I got up Monday morning. I queued up the weather app on my phone (further stalking). The rain was still raining. The temperature was thirty-four. Damp and cold really sucks. It even agreed with actual observations. It doesn’t always. The rain did seem to be moving away. I needed the wipers most of the way there, but the rain appeared to be in remission as I got near.[2]

I don’t know if it’s because the ocean is on the wrong side of me or what, but my sense of direction is really messed up. The house is on the east side of CA 17. The redwood is on the west side of CA 17. Logically I should have to cross 17. But I didn’t, at least not that I was aware of. But once we were up the tree, we could see the ocean. Maybe it’s California Rules.

The morning of the climb, I cued up the map app on my phone. The address was 14215 Long Ridge Rd., a twenty minute drive, so it said. I got to Long Ridge Rd. I got to 14231, looking for 14215. Close. Next place had a huge redwood that had fallen across the driveway. About 16’ of tree had been removed to allow access. The rest laid there, went out through the woods, and popped out on the road 200 feet away. Where it was chopped off, it was still 3’ thick. But in spite of the fallen tree, the address sign said 14211, and then the numbers just got squirrely after that and seemed to have no sense of order. The GPS, which had been silent, calmly informed me that I should “return to the route,” meaning that it thought its silly human wasn’t paying it enough attention. They like to be scratched behind the ears, you know. And they get grumpy when you don’t listen.

I turned around and went back to 14231. 14235 was also on the stump. And then there was a faded, faint 14215 under them, down near the ground. The roads around here, and this includes the driveway, were either mapped by someone with really bad palsy or an EKG machine. It was enough to make the driver woozy. Admittedly, all the wiggles are necessary to accommodate the terrain. These slopes make the best West Virginia has to offer look like flat ground. The wiggles of the driveway (a scenic attraction in their own right) led me to the top of a knoll, directly above the fallen redwood at 14211. Can’t get there from here.

Scott came out and introduced himself as Scott. See that one out behind the house, he asked. That’s the one. We call it grandpa.

That scrubby little thing? I said.

Well, the hill drops down behind the house. The tree, as is common with trees, gets bigger when you get up close and personal.

Jean arrived in her Washington Jeep. She said she was from Port Arthur or Angeles or one of those portly places on the Olympic Peninsula. She had her own tree experiences involving a large western red cedar which went up some distance and forked. One day she came home and couldn’t find her van. A fork of the cedar had flattened the van and buried it in foliage. Then a year or so later, she came home and the other fork took out her shed. She said those were the only two things the forks could possibly hit, and both scored direct hits. But now the stump has new sprouts and a commitment to reach for the sky.

Which reminds me. I believe the trees around here are so tall- -some more than 300 feet- -because Hollywood was up here shooting a western or a gold rush movie, something with good guys and bad guys, you know. And when the bad guy said “reach for the sky,” the trees thought he meant them, and so they did. Just a theory. There’s this whole thing these days about how trees talk to each other. A little anthropomorphic, if you ask me.

Tim came out and introduced himself as Tim, and gave a little background about how he came to be a tree climbing instructor. Back in the dark ages before 1990, little was known about the ecology of the canopy in redwood forests. Since he had tree climbing skills, he could help the non-arboreal scientific types get up into the canopy to study their studies and research their research. We went around the ring, just the four of us for this climb.

Scott reintroduced himself as Scott. He’s pretty clear on his identity. His story wasn’t too different from Tim’s. He has a background in biology and botany and other plantish things. He, too, got hooked up with the research crowd. Part of his work was rambling around northern CA seeking the tallest redwood. It was 366 feet when “discovered.” It wasn’t lost. It knew perfectly well (within the limits of a tree’s cognitive capacity) where it was; it had been there all along. And just because somebody else doesn’t know where you are doesn’t mean you’re lost. Scott, being the prescient sort of fellow that he is, was keenly aware of these nuances. It has grown to 384 since he’s made its acquaintance. He and Tim told tales of life in the tops, whole plant communities no one even knew were up there. Sometimes they’d spend nights up there, a world away. He seemed to think he’d been at this for quite some time, having started in ’92.

Jean said she was Jean, which was (on the one hand) no surprise, and on the other hand, very affirming in these uncertain times. Her husband had had his fun at a trade show the previous week where they had seven buildings full of tech stuff. He only got to five of them. She had thoughts of going, but when he said the word “Vegas,” that thought evaporated. So now she’s here and ready to climb a tree.

I introduced myself as me. Logger with a BS in forestry and one in Plant Path. Tree climber since 1969. Fifty years ago last year. My goal is to climb a tree in every state. Actually cut one down, because that’s what I do. But my insurance wouldn’t cover me in NY & CA, so I was faced with the quandry of how to get CA under my belt. To the Google! Climb a redwood. And here I am.

Tim gave us a little background. This place used to be owned by a logger, but the neighbors, who were afraid he’d cut these trees, effectively ran him out of here. Now the place is owned by Janice and Harold. They may be here for lunch. If you meet them, please be sure to thank them for allowing us to climb their tree. The logger did cut some trees here, and for whatever reason, he used to go up grandfather here and do some pruning. At first I had concerns about the impact of climbing, but when I learned that grandfather had already been subjected to human presence in his branches, I was put at ease.

The four of us gathered under Harold & Janice’s deck for a kinesthetic lesson on how to climb a tree. The method was single-line, top-roped. There, off the joists of the deck, hung two single lines, one for me and one for Jean. We each got a saddle. There were only three holes and I put my feet through them wrong four times. New dogs and old tricks. Lucky hogs and blind acorns. Or something. With patience and persistence, Tim managed to show my feet where they actually belonged. Pull the belt up. Cinch up the waist strap. Good to go.

Then, using locking carabiners, he fastened the two ascenders onto the belt. One had a pair of loops for my feet. The other had a little hand grip for- -of all things- -my right hand. See, now this is the way you do it, he said. You lift your feet up so you’re kind of scrunched in the middle. Stand up. Slide your hands up, left on the rope and right on the ascender. It works out so you sort of move like an inch worm. And this (he pointed to a little flippy lever) is the equivalent of the ejection seat button on the dashboard that says ‘don’t ever push this button.’ Because if you do, the ascender can come off the rope and there you go. When we get to the top- -or as high as you want to go before we get to the top- -I’ll switch you over to this gizmo. He held up a device that looked not too different from a can opener.

It opens like this, and the rope goes through here, and it snaps shut. When you’re not holding onto the handle, it’s locked. You’re not going anywhere. Pull down a little. There’s a sweet spot where it’ll let you move. But if you panic or pull down too hard, it’ll lock right up. That’s not a problem. Just flip it back up to the home position. He demonstrated the hooking up, the going up and the coming down, all there under the deck. Now it’s your turn, he said.

Put your feet in the stirrups (there girls[3]. There are stirrups other places than on horses. Hah!). stand up. Grab ahold of the upper ascender with your right hand, and the rope with your left. Your arms are pretty long; it may work best if you put your left hand above the ascender. Keep your forearm parallel to the rope and lift on it. The ascender should slide upward freely. Then scooch your feet up towards your waist. Sort of like an inchworm. Rinse & repeat. I reached up and slapped the bottom of the deck joist with a rowdy woo-hoo. These guys are pretty contemplative and (seemingly) not given to rowdy behavior. I had to explain the river yell to them.[4] Yeah, great, said Tim. Now it’s time to go down.

The stirrups came of and were stowed around back of the saddle on a clip ring. We’re going to start off slow, Tim said. The hand ascender’s going to stay hooked up, as a safety. So take your right thumb and release the lever that grips the rope. Slide the ascender down towards your waist. Don’t let go of it. Then with your left hand, pull down on the descender lever, but make sure the strap for the ascender doesn’t get tight, or I’ll have to come over there & pull you up by your bootstraps. Neither one of us will be happy about that. Being that my feet were dangling, there was no need to reverse the inchworm effect. Just make sure the strap on the hand ascender didn’t get tight. A few iterations and I was on the ground. Seems like you got the hang of that, Tim said. I’m thinking “I have to get a set of these.” Scott and Jean had been engaged in parallel exercises. When she got back to the ground, Tim asked “any questions? OK, let’s head down the hill.”

To call the path a trail would be to use the term “trail” loosely. It was more like a cat path, which is several orders of magnitude smaller than a cow path. In keeping with the roads laid out by Zizzies[5], the trail required several switchbacks[6]. The tree loomed.

It was actually three trunks with a shared base, a wall of tree. It was more than 20 feet wide. The ruddy bark bore black blotches, evidence of fires in times past. Thick roped ridges ran skyward in a gentle spiral twist. After a silent moment of awe, Scott spoke.

Notice how the needles on these little guys here look more like yew. They need to maximize solar uptake. As far as they’re concerned, that’s their most limiting factor. Moisture down here near the ground isn’t a problem. But they can’t close their stoma completely, and the environment gets drier and drier as the tree goes up. They gamed the system. For every 13 feet of height, they need to pull an atmosphere’s worth of tension to lift water from the ground. So they get as much as they can from the air. That’s why the fog is so important to them. The leaves near the top are much smaller, almost feathery so they don’t lose water. Jean held up a sprig of a twig that had fallen. The needles were a fraction of the size of those from the little guy on the ground. Yes! Exactly, Scott said.

Among gymnosperms- -conifers—redwoods are unusual. They sprout vigorously from stumps, and they have epicormic[7] sprouts. In a stroke of luck, even though 95% of the old trees have been cut, the genetic material has been preserved in these sprouts.

They don’t have crown shyness.

They what? I interrupted.

They share air space. A branch from one tree will grow over through its neighbor. As they grow and become more stationary, they’ll often fuse in a graft.

Ah. That, I said. I thought you said crown shine-ness. The hardwoods back home like to beat each other up to keep their neighbors out of their space.

The world is full of amazing things when you pay attention, Scott continued. You’ll see redwoods growing in a circle. We call that a fairy ring[8]. The “kids” sprout up from the roots or stump of the parent tree. The circle might be thirty feet across. That gives you an idea of the size of the parent tree. They can reproduce sexually- -by seed- -but these sprouts, which are really clones of the parents, are far more common.

There’s this whole underground world that’s out of our view, but is just as amazing. The roots graft together, so that even though the trees can’t root very deeply, they provide a vast mat of support for each other. Then there’s this whole symbiotic community of mycorrhizal fungi. It really becomes hard to tell where one organism ends and the other begins. The fungi are in the tree’s cells. There are others in the needles that help get moisture for the tree.

Tree-ologists estimate that fire ran through these woods at intervals usually not longer than fifty years. That kept fuel accumulation at reasonable levels. The bark near the base may be as much as six inches thick. It’s naturally flame retardant. The epicormic sprouts don’t have the thick bark of the trunk, and they’re killed when the flames and heat lick up the trunk. The sprouts die and fall off. That way, there’s no fuel ladder to the crown. Questions? Great! Let’s climb a tree!

Scott and Jean went to the uphill side of the tree. Tim & I went around to the downhill side. We were more than ten feet below Scott & Jean. Tim pulled the eject button-lever and put the ascenders on the rope. The first few inchworms worth of climbing, there may not be enough weight on the rope’s tail to let it feed itself through the foot ascender, he said. You’ll have to reach down and give it a little encouragement with your hand. It was true, but after about the third inchworm scooch, it fed itself nicely.

Since we’re starting below them, let’s get started, Tim said. We’ll go as far as the fork where the trees separate. Try to keep your feet against the tree. The fork was about twenty feet above us. So off we went, and when we got to the fork, there was Scott with a smile on his face.

There’s no better place to be than up a tree, he said. We all agreed and paused to survey the view. That one down there with the flat top and the old lightning strike running down the side, we call than one Sparky. And this one over here, see all those little holes in the bark? The acorn jay gathers up acorns and stashes them on those little holes. We call that three “the pantry.” Then when times are lean, the jays return and raid the pantry. Seems like a better plan than burying the acorns. Maybe not if the acorns had a plan to become oak trees. But as a way to store food, it’s pretty ingenious. You won’t see them higher up because the bark gets too thin. But up there, you’ll see little horizontal rows of holes made by sapsuckers. They peck at the bark. Sap oozes out. Bugs come to feast on the sap. The sapsucker eats the bugs. Not a bad way to make a living, if perhaps a bit treacherous from the bug’s point of view. We climbed on for a few minutes, then paused again.

It’s nice to take it slow and savor the time spent here in the tree, Tim said. The other day, we had a group of tree climbers and their boss. They were in a ferocious hurry to get to the top of the tree.

Yeah. This is one of those places where it’s more about the journey than the destination, I said. There are so many ways to deepen your consciousness. Mindfulness, awareness, gratefulness, practicing being present. It all feeds the sense of awe that there even is such a thing as this tree.

Tim mused too much testosterone, or they had to show their boss. I don’t know. But to hurry the climb like that is to miss so much of it. Didn’t make much sense to me or Scott, but we’re just the guides. Customer may always be right, but there are times he’s not. Again we climbed for a few minutes. We watched the mist rising off the mountainsides. Down below us, a rooster crowed. That’s not a wild one, mused Scott. But then there was a turkey not too far from the rooster, and he was answered by another turkey over behind us. Thus we had stereo turkeys. We arrived at what Tim and Scott called the braided bacon branch. It was a study in the physics of trees. Scott spoke.

See how the branch is oval? He asked. Conifers add wood to the bottom of the branch as it grows. The pith, what’s usually considered the middle of the branch, is way up near the top. The growth rings go the whole way around. One is added each growing season. But the rings will be tightly packed on the upper surface of the branch, and often pretty far apart on the bottom. Hardwoods are the opposite. They rely on tension wood added to the upper side of the branch. And see how, near the base of the branch, there’s a flare? That acts like a gusset or prop to hold the branch up and support it. It’s another aspect of the tree’s use of compression wood for strength and support. I think the biggest one of those I know of is about twenty feet deep or long or however you want to call it. When they get that big, they get flattened. It’s called fasciated. We climbed on again. Tim stopped and sat on a branch. I guessed it at twelve inches diameter. He asked what I thought it weighed. I pictured picking it with a crane. I don’t know. 1500-2000 lbs? Well, he said do the math. It’s seventy pounds per cubic foot. It’s an eighteen inch branch, and it goes out there fifty feet. That’s sixty cubic feet of leaves, twigs, bark and wood. I did the quick math, 60×70. My eyes got wide. That’s 4200 pounds! That’s right, Tim said. And that’s not accounting for rain or wind loading. Yeah, I said. I’ve taken up telling people that the wonder of the world is not that trees fall over, but that they are able to stand at all. Tim nodded. We climbed the last ten feet.

I sat on a branch. One hundred and eighty feet above the ground. You know, I said to no one in particular, when I signed up for this, I was really hoping to make it above three hundred feet. I looked around. The ground had disappeared in a mist of feathery green foliage below. The Pacific Ocean was visible through a gap in the crown. The clouds had lifted. The hills were dappled with sunshine. But you know, I said, this is enough.

 

Later that afternoon, I went to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It was sobering to realize that I hadn’t even made it to the first branch on some of those giants. They were in the 300-foot club. 180 was enough.

 

 

[1] free

[2] In the best tradition of worry, it was all for naught. No rain during the climb.

[3] My daughters are horse-o-philes (equuophiles). I, on the other hand, have a reputation as a misequusonist.

[4] The river-worthiness of a raft crew on a whitewater trip is judged by the volume and vehemence with which they yell YEE-HAW. Known as a river yell.

[5] Carl Sandburg. The Rootabaga Stories. Imaginary creatures who like life crooked.

[6] Narrow gauge RRs were laid out on the sides of mountains. They couldn’t build a curve, so the train went up or down in a motion like a falling leaf: forward for one stretch, backward for the next. It’s different than a hairpin.

[7] Epi=upon; corm=stem. These branches arise from dormant buds beneath the bark.

[8] In the east, fairy rings are circles in a lawn or pasture grass. It’s another effect of mycorrhiza. The fungus helps the grass secure nutrients.

 

Covid 19 and God

 

I’ve been sitting with the intersectionality of several things: There is that of god within. God works with those who deny God. There is the traditional Christian approach: God is out there, heaven is up there. God directs our lives. There are many who deny that there is a god. There are many who profess that they are saved by grace (New Covenant), but whose god is the vengeful, jealous god of the Old Testament. There are some few who grasp that the basic premise of the New Covenant is Love.

Then there’s the humanist approach: We direct our lives. Our thoughts are the way to define what is good, and what is not. Intellect, not divine inspiration, is the answer to life’s problems. There is no external force, deity or otherwise. It’s all up to us to make it or break it.

This morning, a friend wrote to me. It was his opinion that this virus was god’s punishment for god’s people turning away from god. He said that god said he would close the sports stadiums and concerts if we didn’t turn to him[1].

I went out shopping this morning. People are friendly, even while keeping their social distance. There is a group of Democratic Socialists who are organizing ways for those who are able to help those who are not. Without going the broad brush route, they’d tend towards the humanist end of the equation[2]. Churches are looking out for their members in the same way. Most of my non-Quaker churchy friends fit the conservative model of god in the world. The simple fact is that regardless of ideology, politics, or religion, this caring for neighbors, while not universal[3], is broadly apparent.

The mystics of various traditions mostly believed that god is/was still talking, still among us. That doesn’t exclude heaven. It just creates a both-and situation.

Ah humans, we try to depict and describe the ineffable. In the apophatic and cataphatic traditions, god is both unknowable (apo) and knowable (cata). The simple fact is, though, that any attempt to say “god is…” or “god is not…” will fall short. It will be inadequate in some (or many) ways.

I recently wrote a little piece titled “In Search of Big Sur.” I drove up & down CA Route 1. It concludes, “I saw a car with a stack of surfboards on the roof. That was as close as I got.” It turned out that Big Sur was more of an area, a region, than it is a place. Truth is, I was there. I think our search for god is a lot like that.

In the movie Men in Black, the alien tells the G-men “the galaxy is in Orion’s belt.” Of course, it’s a matter of life and death to find the galaxy. It turns out to be in the cat’s (Orion was the cat’s name) collar, not in the constellation’s belt. Again, I think God is a lot like that. We look for the fantastic, the extraordinary, the miraculous. We never stop to realize that this creation we are present in and part of, is all those things. Which brings us back to the virus.

If god is entirely good and loving, god won’t do things that hurt god’s creation. But humans do do things that hurt creation, including themselves and each other. God is capable of taking the things that happen in the world and turning them to god’s purpose(s). So to say that god sent the virus to cause us to turn to god is, in psychological terms, transference or projection. It is to make god a human creation, not the other way ‘round. It is to say that as humans, we often respond more quickly to punishment than to affirmation. The reasoning is that since that’s the way we would do it, that must be the way god would do it. Old Covenant vs. New Covenant. Such reasoning is to miss the kingdom

There are many who believe if you haven’t accepted Christ as your savior, god isn’t present in your life. Afterall, Christ said “None may come to the Father but by me.” However, the Holy Spirit has many manifestations. One is what a friend referred to as “sneaky Jesus.” I see god active in the lives of those who deny his existence. How to reconcile this? Look for Big Sur. It’s there, whether you find it or not.

What would it look like if we were, as my friend said, to turn to the god who calls us? I think we see it all around us. The ideological lines (for this purpose) have disappeared. We help others, regardless of political, religious, sexual, or any other distinction. When we love our brother[4], we are heeding the greatest commandment, and its successor as well. For we are responding to that of god in the other, and we are loving our neighbor, no matter who that may be. Services may be canceled, but church is happening all around us.

 

[1] God is either genderless, or all genders. Referring to god in the masculine is one way we limit who/what god is.

[2] Many people have rejected organized religion, for a variety of reasons. Many of them identify as “spiritual but not religious (SBNR).” SBNR is the fastest growing “denomination.”

[3] Beware of categorical imperatives.

[4] Again, intended to be “all people.” Brother is the language Scripture uses. It can be helpful to consider who is my brother? Who is my neighbor? Around here, neighbors don’t always live next door.

Crazy World

Especially in this time of isolation/social distancing, humor is good medicine. To that end, I’d post a thread on “funny stuff,” or “smile.” It is my belief that life approximates theater of the absurd, or vice a versa. In my experience, this (perceived) absurdity, which may be the quirkiness of the universe, or a sign of how little we actually understand the divine, is what gives life color. I can tell when my life is becoming impoverished because it becomes black, white, and shades of grey. It can be depression or spiritual hunger. The symptoms are similar. When life starts to get better, the color returns.
I heard someone say “Try to do at least one thing to make someone smile during the day.” Seems like good advice for all times, but especially at present.