Timing the Trees (and other wonderful things)

I’ve had a terrific two days because I’ve been able to visit Judy twice!  I’m so jazzed about the idea of creating a local phenology calendar/almanac.  I found three organizations to support this: UCSB Phenology Stewardship Program, Project BudBurst, and USA National Phenology Network.  I’d like to do this as a Cabrillo-College-specific project, documenting the living things on the main Cabrillo campus (and probably expanding to Santa Cruz county, as we go along).  So we start to notice and record when the Liquidambar trees begin to turn colors, when the cherry trees bloom, when the poppies open,

when the cliff swallows arrive (usually around St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th), when the owls nest, and so many other wonderful natural events that make this such a spectacular place to live.  These are the things the Ohlone would have noticed (well, not the Liquidambar or the cherries, since those aren’t native).  They are the things that connect us to place.

I also hope that such a calendar/almanac could include all those wonderful celebrations of nature that are embedded in all cultures (well, probably, I guess I should check…).  Maybe someday, we can have a full 365 day cycle to celebrate these natural events and things ecological, like the God’s Gardeners in Margaret Atwood’s brilliant and amazing The Year of the Flood.

Judy told me that today is the Jewish New Years Day for Trees, Tu Be’Shevat, celebrated by eating dried fruits and nuts in the promise of coming plenty.  For our celebration, we ate chocolate and cherries together, and we made shide paper strips for a shimenawa I will be placing around a redwood near my home (a Shinto tradition).  We talked about the co-evolutionary braid of our early primate ancestors developing along with the angiosperms (the trees that make flowers and fruits) and insects (especially pollinators).  We also talked about the first trees we fell in love with.

Mine was a huge, sweet California buckeye, whose canopy came all the way to the ground, providing a fragrant refuge in the springs and the punishingly hot, dry summers of Concord.  I fled into its embrace often when I was a ‘tween, across the dry blonde grasses of Newhall Park, to get away from the cookie-cutter suburban landscape where I lived.  I imagined I was native to that place, having no idea what those people must have been like, but feeling closer to them and their imagined wildness than to my family or my classmates.  I read books about wolves and horses and dolphins, and I dreamed of escaping into the wilderness.

When, years later, I found myself in wilderness, in the Sumatran rainforest, trying to observe our cousins the orangutans, and illegal loggers moved into the research site and began to fell the amazing trees that were complex ecosystems unto themselves, and each day I wasn’t sure how or if I was going to cope, I vowed that I would do what I could to save all trees, all over the world.  I don’t know if I’ve done right by them, but little-by-little, I keep trying and hoping it’s making a difference.

So, thank you, Judy, for reminding me to think about the trees.  And thank you, trees, for making us all who we are.  I pledge to pay more attention to the wheel of events that mark your years here in my beautiful hometown.

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