They march up the side of the mountain, singly or by two or three, the ghosts of dead hemlock trees in the Smokey Mountains, their white boles in stark contrast to the green foliage around them. Their story is a small insect introduced from Asia many years ago, a tiny bug that is killing them all. In a few decades the hemlock ghosts will crash to the ground and decompose. The forest will close around them, welcoming their remains into the thin mountain soils.
We’ve done it before – accidentally released into our forests those pests that change it forever. Think Chestnut Blight. We’ve exterminated forest animals such as Passenger Pigeons. Not deliberately (“There were so many of them. Who knew?), just casually, deeds more dangerous than the axe. The forest survives – but is it the same?
A group of tourists notices a small cloud hanging in a valley. Millions of pixels capture it. Are those people aware that they witness the disappearance of a tree species, perhaps forever?
I pull my Honda off into a quiet glade, roll down the windows and inhale the forest essence. Dark, still, calm and peaceful, it invites me, promises me that it will survive. Foliage is green in September, yet I know that those trees are pulling substance from their leaves, moving it into the boles and roots, preparing for their winter sleep. I welcome the serenity, the silence.
The metaphor reaches out to me but I push it back. I murmur the words of Saint Augustine: “… but not yet.”
September 28, 2014
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
“But I have promises to keep…” -- Robert Frost