We are surrounded by secret worlds; or perhaps it is that we are oblivious to the secrets of the world surrounding us. I was thinking about that as I read Alva Noe’s appreciation in the 13.7 blog of a new book by Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” this morning. If you have ever had the experience while walking in the woods that the trees were talking to one another, Wohlleben goes deep into science that says your impression is correct. It is a slow-motion community conversation carried out through chemical signals and seasonal behavior. No doubt our own hyperactive interactions are equally opaque to the trees.
It reminded me of another riveting “hidden life” story about the world that lives in the canopy of ancient redwood forest, hundreds of feet above the ground. Where soil collects, sometimes a meter deep on and between branches up in the canopy, shrubs and thickets and trees of other species grow. An ecosystem of animals that never set foot upon the ground lives there.
We walk though Wonderland, staring oblivious into our phones. A recent article I read (just where escapes me at the moment) said that even in the “deadest” parts of the ocean, boreholes into the ocean floor find life and oxygen all the way down to the bedrock.
Here’s a little poem from some years back that captures my ignorance and my chagrin:
Walking Home with Wet Feet
Looking out over this weary farmland
abandoned to November, abandoned
to trailers, car-dumps and second-growth,
seeing endless wires on weathered poles,
shot-riddled roadsigns, the sprung
silo smothered in grapevine under grey sky
sodden as your socks with ditch-water–
you can’t imagine that beneath you
spring water, crisp as vodka from the freezer,
runs through grottos studded with calcite crystals
by colonnades of limestone over falls
to churn pools full of blind fish and insects;
you can scarcely credit a secret world cupped
in the burr oak’s hand, beneath whose cork
marvelous cities of carpenter ants hide, whose
roots are a maze of shrews, whose boles hold
an owl, a squirrel and a nest of wasps.
Unseen above the clouds sun and moon
shine in opposition; a chevron of geese cries
of absolute liberation. You can only shiver,
sigh and limp home in twilight.