What a difference a year makes.

Last year my holiday Sidecar Story was a reflection on the amaryllis, the fiery red blossom that develops from a self-contained bulb (no watering needed!) and is an omnipresent ‘cadeautje’ (gift) among the Dutch during the holiday period. I waxed about the potent symbolism of this flower, mostly that everything that allows it to bloom so beautifully is contained in its bulb.  Self-sufficiency at its best!

This year, I take it all back.  I still think the amaryllis is stunning, and offers much for metaphor-izing.  Yet 2020 has laid bare the fancy that we can thrive as self-contained beings.  We’ve all been forced to try that in one way or the other during this year of connection-deficits. Anyone wanna keep doing the amaryllis thing?  Didn’t think so. We might bloom mightily.  But then …. Poof.  All that glory and strength gone once the nutrients in that bulb are depleted.  

This holiday season my metaphorizing thoughts are landing on… the tree.   Not surprising, since trees are omnipresent during the Christmas season.  Those that land in our living rooms, bedecked by ornaments and lights, can give off the illusion that trees are lone and self-contained.  Indeed, that’s the perception many people have of trees, even in the outdoors, planted in soil.  They can give off an image of a lonely sentinel, intent on its own survival.

I was fascinated by an article I read a couple of weeks ago –The Social Life of Forests (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/06/podcasts/the-daily/tree-communication-suzanne-simard.html) – which debunks this idea and posits that trees are highly social beings, communicating and connecting through a series of subterranean channels of fungi.  Nutrients, water, carbon and chemical alarm signals pass through this ‘wood-wide-web’ network, even among trees of different species.  Evidence suggests that trees look out for one another’s survival and well-being, for example sometimes loaning sugars to other tree buddies caught in seasonal nutrient deficits, or growing branches on one side so that their neighboring tree will get more sunlight (tree allies!).

Of particular interest to me was a study performed by Dr. Suzanne Simard, the ecologist featured in this article, on commercial clearcutting practices in which loggers replaced formerly diverse forests with homogenous plantations.  Plenty of space, water and light for each tree; no competitor tree species.  Rather than thrive, these trees became fragile and prone to disease.  It seems they were reliant on the diversity and connectedness offered by the old-growth forest setting.  

Let the metaphor-izing blossom!

I didn’t get a Christmas tree this year.  I’ve enjoyed my walks in the woods instead, admiring those noble trees in their natural habitat, imagining the vast networks linking them to one another, allowing each to flourish while nourishing the collective soil with its specific contributions.

(If a tree Zooms in a forest, do you think it makes a sound? Probably not. It’s on mute.)

Yours in ditching self-containers and admiring fungi,