Humans. We know what you think of us trees, at least what you say about us: So nice, so beautiful. Especially this time of year when our leaves are turning red and yellow and orange, and dying and falling, and your children are stomping on the dried-out husks just to hear them crunch.
It’s all lovely and fun, you say, until one of you mentions having to clean up after us when you get back home. Raking the lawn, you call it. You know you don’t actually have to rake, right? What do you think happens in the forest? Or you can simply mow the leaves over when they’re dry. You even have a word for it: mulch. You know that would help protect the soil over the winter, AND it would save you a lot of work, right?
You’re welcome. See what you have to gain by listening to us? We mean, we know you’re grateful for us and all. At least you say you are, out on your walks in the woods. Many of you are kind enough to smile up into our branches, and some of you even mention something about how we clean the air. But—we just don’t know. It’s hard to tell with you humans. The chainsaws, for instance. You say you have good reasons for that, and we trust you. We guess…
And worse, the sickness is upon you again this year. It comes and goes, these autumnal mass illnesses when many of you across the land talk about such crazy things—candidates and polls and elections—and even when you come visit us in the woods you can’t concentrate on where you are.
We asked our human assistant Tara Campbell to explain things to us, and to tell us how we trees fit in to the whole election thing. You see, we wanted to know how you talk about us when we’re not around, because that is the true measure of a friend. So we asked her to listen in for us, in a place where no one would suspect we’d be listening: the internet. And when it comes to this election stuff that possesses you so, our human assistant was rather embarrassed to report to us that we trees are almost completely absent from the discussion.
Look at Hillary Clinton’s page, for example, since polls seem to indicate we American trees might want to pay attention to her. We don’t expect to be mentioned at the top of human concerns, so we weren’t that fussed when our human assistant told us we weren’t mentioned on this Clinton woman’s home page—although we might be something worth considering, given that there are three trillion of us on the planet. Just sayin’. Tara did find something about climate in this candidate’s platform—way down the page, mind you, after taxes and education and manufacturing, which we’re sure are all important, but still… Anyway, after scrolling way down the page to get to the “Climate change” section, and clicking onto the page where we were certain to be mentioned, our human assistant couldn’t find one reference to “tree” or “forest” or “woods.” Sure, clean air and clean water, but um, how about the trees that help create clean air? Missed opportunity to reach out to the tree community.
Then our human assistant went to the other major candidate’s website, this man named Trump, and she was a little surprised to note that climate wasn’t even on the list of that person’s “Positions.” But then she said she shouldn’t be surprised, so we’re a little confused. Then to add to the confusion, she started complaining about downloading cookies, although we still don’t understand how humans absorb food through the internet. At any rate, you might want to go ahead and check for yourselves. She said there was some stuff up on his site about natural gas, but that he also wants promote use of shale, oil and “clean coal.” All that digging really does a number on our own Wood Wide Web, our underground communication network of roots and fungus; not to mention more emissions in the air for yours truly to choke down. Seriously, do you know how much carbon we’re removing from the air? Our assistant found that, in terms humans can understand, a single acre of us sequesters 2.5 tons of carbon every year. We can’t even keep up with the supply as it is, and now this Trump guy wants more? We guess you know where our vote probably wouldn’t be going.
Tara says this Gary Johnson guy has “Environment” on his list of topics—way down on the list, like with Clinton, but hey, it’s there. But then she told us when she clicked on the link, she didn’t find “tree” or “forest” or “woods” or anything. Once again, no fertilizer for the tree vote. Not that we can vote—yet.
And this Evan McMullin guy (yes, my human helper even looked him up because we were getting so depressed at all the others), you would think he could do something a little different vis a vis us trees to make himself stand out. We were a little annoyed that we were lumped in with “Energy” and even got second billing—“Energy and the Environment”—but okay, we asked Tara to click and see. And sure enough, she found the word “forest” there—but it’s only there because this candidate wants clean air and clean parks and forests for human children to play in. Even when we’re there, we’re just the invisible clean up crew for you people.
We were about to lose all hope, but then our human assistant Tara told us about this woman named Jill Stein from the Green Party. Now, with “green” in the name of the party, we were encouraged. And sure enough, climate was right at the top of this woman’s platform. Although the words “tree” and “woods” were not mentioned, she did say something about promoting “sustainable forestry.” So we’re hopeful, and waiting for these negotiations on “sustainable forestry.” As you can imagine, we have much to say about this issue.
Yes, humans, soon enough this Green Party will get the tree vote. In fact, the only thing we would have to change about the party is their stance on genetically modified organisms. They don’t seem to approve of GMOs, but we must inform all of you that they are a little too late with their objections. That seed has already burst out of its pod. Isn’t science a wonderful thing? Just ask our human assistant Tara Campbell. Don’t you wonder how she’s been able to speak with us? Did you think those experiments she wrote about in her book were all made up?
We’re changing. Evolving. And we’re just getting started.
We look forward to the day when we will have a say in determining which ones of us are cut down, and when and where these controlled burns people speak of will happen. In fact, we’re not convinced they need to happen at all. We’ve been on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, and haven’t especially needed human help to survive. In fact, it looks like the humans are the ones who need our help. And we’ve been willing to supply it—thus far.
But as we said: we’re changing, evolving, and just getting started.
So the next time you start up a chainsaw or light a fire or sit at a wooden desk, think about the trees. The next time you write on a piece of paper or idly pluck a leaf off a tree or let your dog sidle up to the same wretched sapling all of the other neighborhood dogs have defiled, just stop and think.
Tara Campbell is a Washington, DC-based writer of crossover sci-fi. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. Tara is the grateful recipient of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ (DCCAH) 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, and the DCCAH31st Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist. She’s an assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and her monthly column at the Washington Independent Review of Books, Text in the City, covers all things books and writing in the DC area.