Coded green.

Saturday 9 June 2001

Young pines

Pic of the day: Would you believe how these young pines have been stretching their new shots in the air? Even though it still feels like spring here, what with the chilly winds. And for good measure, I noticed these on my way home after reading on the bus about the Accursed Forest (in Magi'i of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr). OK, so these pines do not grow an arm's lenght a day, but it's still so fast it seems to border on the supernatural...


When I was a boy, the forest just was there. I was aware that trees were somewhat less permanent than rocks, but not by much. The main difference was that the trees lost their leaves in the fall, and got them back in the spring. But even that was just the way things were.

I don't know when I started to see forests differently, or why. I guess as I live longer, time speeds up, in a way. And the forest begins to move. When time was slower, the trees seemed like dead objects. Now, they move. They grow from tiny seedlings to mighty trunks, each year showing new branches. The various trees compete for light, their scarce resource; but they also cooperate, shielding each other against the winds.

When I come into the forest, it is like entering a different world. The wind dies off, and the sounds change. The air smells different, and it feels different too: Cooler on a hot day, milder on a cold. The forest is like a biosphere of its own, with its own climate and its own life.

The trees are the workers and rulers of the forest, but it teems with other life too: From the tiny flowers that carpet the ground in spring, to the armies of insects that eat their fill of leaves in early fall, unaware of their coming doom. Birds flitter and twitter around, and occasionally a hare or a small deer runs away among the bushes.

I know it is just a concept, a sum of experiences. But I feel like I can actually sense the life in the forest around me. In an almost mystic way, I am awed by the sum total of lifeforce in the verdant cathedral that kindly allows me to roam its paths. And in those years when the forest suffers from drought and the rains wait, I have felt the thirst of the trees like a soundless moan around me, like a prayer without words from the silent congregation.


In fantasy literature, forests often hold a special place. There are two kinds of forests there: The generic wilderness, which contains trees and shrubs along with various other decorations. And the real forest. The real forest is dense, so dense that it seems to be able to cut off anyone who dares enter it, and swallow them forever. The great forests are sentient, and they are not happy. They want revenge for the fires and the axes, and they do not tolerate men easily. The forest is slow to anger, but once it strikes back, it does so with terrible force. Those who enter the angry forest are never seen again.

In real life, forests don't strike back. They grow back. I cannot make any promises for the tropical rain forests, sadly. But I know that up here in Norway, forests are very keen on growing back. They have no fear of humans whatsoever, and will happily grow right up to your house unless you clear the area regularly. And if you leave an old farm alone for just a couple years, new small trees sprout in the fields. Give them a few more years, and many fields will have become forest again. Roots breach the foundations of the houses, and soon only a pile of stones show where there was once a home.

There are a couple obvious reasons why the forests are spreading here. They are, you see. The milder climate (hard to believe on a day like today, but there it is). More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. CO2 is food for plants, quite apart from its moderate greenhouse effect. I'd say that it also helps to not have people cutting down the trees as fast as they can grow up ... I suspect in a densely populated country, forests might have more trouble than here. But I read that they are growing on most of the northern hemisphere. Then again, this is not where the population boom is, anymore. And those who live here, are not as fond of axe and fire as our ancestors were.


I have repeatedly mentioned the computer game Black & White, and its motto "Find out who you really are". Well, I think I have found it out now. You see, one of the basic resources in the game is wood, and it tends to be the scarcest one. The villagers will cut down any forests except "parks" inside the village, and the computer opponents will also nab any trees they can get. While I like to pick trees, find the best soil for each type, plant them and water them. The trees multiply fairly quickly when watered, well at least the nordic types of trees. If not disturbed by opponents and that mewling creature of mine, I can spend a lot of time planting, watering, and shaping my new forests.

Incidentally, planting and watering is considered slightly good, which may be why I still have a very light gray and pretty tower. But I have to admit that when the villagers come running (yes, their legs go like drumsticks) with their axes while my trees are still babies ... well, thoughts of flying villagers and human sacrifice do cross my mind. So, I guess I've found out what I really am ... Neither black nor white, but green.

Branches spread and tree trunks grow
through rain and heat and snow and cold:
Though wide world's wind untimely blow,
and earthquakes rock and cliff unseal,

my leaves grow green and seedlings bloom
since days before the Earth was old
and Time began its walk to doom,
the Forests worlds' bare rock anneal,

forbidding dusty waste and death.
I am the Land's Creator's hold:
I inhale all expiring breath
and breathe out life to bind and heal.

(The Forestal's song from The Illearth War by Stephen Donaldson.)

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