Over at The Last Word on Nothing, esteemed science writer Rebecca Boyle wrote a lovely appreciation of trees. “Apart from humans, maybe, trees are the best form of life on this planet,” she writes. From Boyle’s essay, titled “Make Like A Tree and Get Outta Here“:
Trees remain in one place, but reach elsewhere always. They stretch down into the ground, and they constantly strain toward the sun. They are the embodiment of our shared presence on a rocky planet that orbits a star. Hedgehogs and helminths may be interesting, but they don’t constantly remind us, simply by existing, that we are in a solar system.
Trees are also hosts for every other form of life. Their roots chew up the very crust, a process aided by microbes, and in doing so, trees remake continents. Their bark harbors fungus and lichen. Their branches and leaves shelter and feed insects, birds and mammals. Even now, when humans are capable of building machines that fly to Mars, we still use trees for shelter. We also cut them down and burn them for warmth. Some of us cut them down and bring them inside and festoon them, for a form of psychic warmth that lasts a few weeks and is the only reason I can tolerate December.
Trees are strivers. My pin oak is one of the fastest-growing species of hardwood trees, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. It can grow two feet per year. Trees also bide their time. The oldest living thing on Earth is a tree in Arizona, a bristlecone pine that sprouted from a seed a few years before the invention of writing, in 3200 BCE.