How to See the Trees in Your House

Birch, maple, mahogany, mesquite, cherry, cedar, acacia, apple, ash, bamboo, balsa, fir, oak, olive, pine, poplar, sandalwood, spruce, are the various kinds of wood that live in my house. Until I saw a giant chart of 52 Types of Wood and the Trees They Come From, I hadn’t thought much about the trees themselves that these woods come from. It has been wonderful to make that rather obvious connection: of all the living materials I enjoy daily.

And until I read Richard Powers’ remarkable tree-centric novel, The Overstory, I didn’t realize the rich language for even deeper appreciation…

…Dr. Patricia Westerford, who once earned a doctorate on the biochemistry of trees, is on a hermetic journey through the Pacific Northwest when she comes upon an immense western red cedar:

She addresses the cedar, using words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next.

“Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Thank you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.”

Each new item is release and relief. Finding no good reason to quiet now, she lets the gratitude spill out. “Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The clothes closet. The paneling. I forget….Thank you,” she says following the ancient formula. “For all these gifts you have given.” And still not knowing how to stop, she adds, “We’re sorry. We didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.”

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