The trees talk to one another

Years ago I heard an interview with Martha Stewart (no relation) and the only statement she made that stuck with me all these 20-plus years was the answer she gave when asked who helped her get to where she was going, who inspired her, who gave her a hand up to build her Martha Stewart empire. Her response was immediate, her voice emphatic.
“No one,” she said.
In that moment I ceased being a Martha Stewart fan and wasn’t surprised that she did a stint in prison. That sounds harsh even as I write the words, but no one survives this world and certainly doesn’t flourish without someone taking our hand and/or guarding our back, providing refuge and I would hazard a guess that most of the time we aren’t even aware when we give someone safety, a place to rest so she/he might begin again.
A West African proverb states: “If we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.” With that philosophy comes an inherent sense of gratitude for those who have come before.
Yet, in contrast, the western world’s ideology would have us believe the myth that we can succeed on sheer will alone. I’m not sure those who think themselves in control, those who have the power have any idea how to define success in the spirit of humanity.
Further to this thought, I am reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” written by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Robin is a professor of Environmental and Forest Biology. She is my age. This book is almost meditative when I read it. I am transported to a place I can’t name, but that feels like home.
She writes about many things, but I was fascinated by her story of nut trees and their mast fruiting.
Biologists know that nut trees do not produce nuts in great numbers every year. The trees store sugar in their roots over many seasons, banking it for future nut production so one would expect trees then to produce nuts on their own schedule, when each tree has stored adequate amounts of sugar.
Not so. In one season they produce massive amount of nuts. Not one tree, but all trees in the grove, all trees in the surrounding groves, all trees across a county produce abundant nuts at the same time, like a huge choir of trees all singing in unison. How is this possible when trees are at different stages in terms of growth and age and in their ability to store sugar.
I find the “how” of mast fruiting fascinating. Science knows the trees communicate with one another, though the details of said communication is not clearly understood.
Pheromones are the likely sender, floating on the breeze with their complex messages. If one tree is under siege from insects the trees warn the others to produce defensive chemicals to fight off the insects.
Other scientists believe the trees’ roots do the talking, but most agree communication happens with grove after grove sharing their plans so all may benefit and work as a unit.
The why of this type of nut production is just as fascinating. The extraordinary amount of nuts is a gift of abundance to the nut-eaters and is more than these seed predators can use so in this way the nut trees are guaranteeing their own survival as some of these seed nuts will be forgotten in the squirrels’ stash and will become a future generation of trees.
Even beyond that is the fact that the nut’s embryo is protected inside a double layer of hard shell so that it must be stored away for later use and as a result is available to the nut eater in the winter when the diet is in need of the high fat and protein for survival. Nature works together, no one part independent of another.
Find Robin’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” and read it; you will be glad you did.
wendistewart@live.ca