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The Society of Trees

Our remote ancestors lived on the plains; but our even more remote ancestors lived in the trees. It is hard to imagine the transition. Open spaces are not very long tolerable to our species: we must be shut in and canopied over to sleep or live at ease. The universal report of those who try sleeping under the star-laden skies of the desert dark: “It was like I was falling into the sky.” Whoever left the trees first did not do it easily, or by choice. More likely the forest died and left them, than that they left the forest.

It is fitting that the same Roman minds that invented espaliering would invent crucifixion, would assume the conquest of the world as the duty fate had burdened them with. And it is fitting that a civilization careful to trap half-wild forests – bois or Wald or park – within the walls of its cities, would value freedom, discovery, and genius.

Sometimes the woods are like the sea, with swells and breakers of foam-foliage, as along green-walled Southern roads in summer; and sometimes the woods are like the library, and every tree as much an individual, as deep in itself, as much to be known, as a book. People, too, may be like the sea – as the crowd, the mob, the throng, or under uniforms (soldiers, suits, staff, and street people alike). But all of us are individuals, though we deny or try to hide it, while only some trees can distinguish themselves. To use a local (New Orleanian) metaphor, City Park is as full of remorseless individuals as is the French Quarter; but there is nothing humane in an orchard or a tree farm. Still, trees more often distinguish themselves than people, and are easier to get to know. Affectations aside, there are people I love more than any tree, but I have loved more trees than people.