Leaf-out

witch hazel

Witch hazel was once the dowser’s favorite source of forked sticks. But nowadays the few dowsers still practicing their ancient and ridiculous craft are just as likely to improvise with wire from a coathanger — good news for the witch hazels, I suppose. But just look at this tree: doesn’t it look like a great place to hang a coat?

trail blaze

For six months the trees have stood bare and exposed, and I’ve had nothing but convivial feelings toward them. But now suddenly they are turning alien and inhuman. Where before I might’ve seen a face, now there’s nothing but a mask waiting to be carved. I’m seeing handles instead of hands, chair legs instead of limbs, and instead of company, a forest of empty chairs.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. I love that last line! it sums up the tree-loving logger’s torment. (and yes, there are such creatures!)
    But a reverence for trees does not preclude a reverence for their wood and its possible uses. Carefully selected, gently harvested and lovingly transformed, a limb can be preserved as a chair arm, gracing a sunny corner of a room with a reflection of the grace of its origin, and ultimately saved from its destiny of decay and decomposition. The cycle is grace itself, but sometimes stopping the cycle is capturing time, not in a bottle, but in a chair arm.
    The balance is in seeing one time this way, one time that way, and never obsessing on the same view.

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  2. The balance is in seeing one time this way, one time that way, and never obsessing on the same view.

    Well put. I like wooden things, and I do feel that a local, small-scale forest products industry is a vital part of the Appalachian economy.

    Unfortunately, here in PA, lumber companies ship hardwoods all the way to China to make furniture, which other companies then import. Nothing against the Chinese, but that just ain’t right. Also, because black cherry wood is currently prized, lumber companies big and small in PA are actively working to perpetuate clearcut regimens that favor black cherry monocultures, with predictably devastating effects on forest ecology.

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  3. Cady — that’s an interesting perspective I had never considered. I’m not a logger fan, but I just noted today how many trees were down on the forest ground. I can see your point about making something beautiful from the trees instead of witnessing the sight of their decay. I do also enjoy wooden things, paticularly those “things” which are used in conjunction with nature. (What am I thinking of?)

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  4. That top photo is beautiful. Says “spring” to me – when the forests are still wide open and just a few bright green leaves start bursting out. Nice melancholy post, Dave. :-)

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  5. Perhaps the alien and inhuman impressions you felt arose because we have nothing analogous to leaves sprouting from our limbs. A leafless winter tree is easily anthromorphized; we have trunks and limbs just as the trees do.

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  6. Gina Marie – But of course, those downed logs are a boon for many forest critters, from mice and chipmunks to snails, millipedes, beetles, and a zillion other invertebrate species, not to mention fungi, bacteria, etc. So to me, the sight of their decay is a beautiful thing!

    Peter, leslee, Jarrett – Thanks.

    Larry – Exactly.

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  7. Pear or peach branches are the favored dousing implements around here. I come from the prarie, where iron or brass rods are preferred. I won’t argue about it with you, but here on the ridges, where seams of water are capricious and contradictory, I’ll douse before calling the well-driller.

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  8. Pear or peach? Interesting.

    I talked to a well driller once who admitted that it’s all a complete mystery. “You can drill two wells six feet apart, and one will run muddy [as my well often does] and the other will run clear,” he said. Or won’t run at all.

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