ARCHAEOPTERIS AND US
R. J. ANDRES
Ph.D, is a retired Long Island, New York, mathematics and English
teacher and author of numerous math textbooks.
trees because they seem more resigned to
the way they have to live than other things do.
I feel as if this tree knows everything
I ever think of when I sit here.
When I come back to it,
I never have to remind it of anything;
I begin just where I left off.
Willa Cather, O Pioneers! chapter-viii, part-ii,1913
while fern-like and extinct, is considered the first tree. While
today’s ferns are said to be living fossils that really
have changed very little for hundreds of millions of years, they
are, surprisingly, directly related to the other 500,000 species
of earth’s plants.
of species, we cannot ignore Charles Darwin who wrote in his Origin
of the Species that in the tangled web of evolution there
was a common ancestry and continuity stretching from fish to orchids
to elephants to dragonflies, to bacteria, to all other species,
and to us, humans. Of course, saying all of that does not explain
the puzzle of how today’s flora actually evolved over the
past 450 million years.
today’s science can illustrate how species are not only
related to each other through DNA and protein structures but also
to Willa Cather sitting quietly under that familial tree.
standing alone, seemingly orphaned, are never so openly applauded
and adopted as when a writer like Willa Cather sits down and writes
of her connection.
not in any sense was she an 'evolutionary biologist,' Cather in
that opening citation was simply feeling the intimate link to
in celebration of trees and despite Joyce Kilmer’s gentle
counsel in saying “I think that I shall never see/ a poem
lovely as a tree,” I offer the following:
From my neighbor‘s back yard
there is a brooding black walnut tree
hunched over our common fence.
This is a tree that knows me quite well.
my side of a long, high, dark-green hedgerow,
in almost single file,
marching down to the aptly named Willow Pond,
are several tall airy maples,
all sharing the sky
with a number of self-propagating sassafras,
a large magnolia, and some senior oak trees.
than just “being there”
or knowing their place,
more than just anchored or “resigned,”
these trees are an everyday theatre of improv.
And there are moments in every day when I can listen
to all of them caught up in some sudden breeze
engaging in wireless colloquial chatter
about the company they keep in the canopy --
their air-bnb for guests with feathers or fur.
back more than 300 million years
into paleo history,
there’s a proxy record retained in the fossils
showing that ancient ferns from the Devonian time
expressed a compulsive flair for creative survival.
Hence, in a stroke of evolutionary genius
genetic memories for renewal and rebirth
were cleverly outsourced in the hard drives
of corms and spores, rhizomes, bulbs, seeds, and tubers,
as well as the splaying roots of trees.
it seems to me, that
more than just a good listener,
more than sentinel, symbol, or metaphor,
trees are us:
stubborn, defiant, creative,
hugging the earth,
eating the light for life,
inhaling the wind,
and sighing at night with a passion for the stars.
by R.J. Andres
of Black Hole