An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of October 20, 2013
Issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the
Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas,
on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

GNARLINESS

gnarly tree

Two mature liveoaks stand outside my window, the tree on the left healthy and bearing leaves and acorns, while the top half of the other is dead. It's normal to see large liveoaks in this area with whole, big branches dead, maybe infected with deadly Oak Wilt, though this particular tree doesn't show certain symptoms for that, other than by dying.

Whatever causes the tree's dead top, visitors suggest that I cut the branches, not for disease control but because the branches are ugly and block the view of hills across the valley.

Unless I learn that the tree should be cut to stop the disease from spreading, I'm against cutting anything. First, any tree's dead branches provide valuable service to the surrounding ecosystem: woodpeckers eating beetles that are eating decaying wood; naked branches offering perches for lichens and mosses; falling branches adding organic matter, etc.

But, more than that, I don't agree that the limbs are ugly, or that the view of hills across the valley is superior to that of the gnarly limbs themselves.

For one thing, that well formed, healthy tree on the left is like thousands of others along this slope, but there's only one tree here expressing itself in the exact schematic gnarliness as the tree on the right, and that tree seems to have something to say to me.

For, each morning as I sit looking out this window during breakfast, those contorted branches and the flaking bark empathize with my own kinked, aging joints and weather-beaten hide. They visually display my mental world populated with inconsistencies and asymmetries, my personal losses and deformations, my gradual yieldings to gravity, in fact all my general daily degradations. Yet, I would judge what I see in that tree as some kind of prettiness, and certainly something worthy of existing, at least as worthy as anything else. Maybe if a gnarly tree can please me, then my own case is not a hopeless one.

Beyond all that, when I meditate on those dead branches I get to thinking that there must be a sovereign gnarly theme flowing through the Universe and among all the dimensions, just that right now, right here, that flowing theme catches itself on and crystallizes in the dying tree, and in me. As such, each morning I find myself strung among those branches and, because gnarliness turns up in lots of places, when I go into the world I find myself among craggy rocks, in certain minor-chord, jerky kinds of music and prose, in shattered clouds and night-skies with clots of stars and summer lightning, and, conversely, all those things seem to turn up within me.

Communality... Maybe that's what the dead branches speak to me of each morning, of my being part of a flow through the Universe, the flow being eternal, but like any river always changing and evolving, so right now, right here, even this arthritic-knee kind of gnarliness on a droughty limestone hill in southwestern Texas is acceptable, maybe even lovely and hopeful. Facebook Icon