The Rings of Life

We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old.

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For an impatient flitter such as myself, trees are truly sentient beings. Beings that teach me about holding still, of being sentient beings for the small time we spend on this beautiful planet. Like a butterfly flitting through the Earth for a day. You can replace tree for a star in the quote below and it would still hold when one sees redwood trees, sequoia trees and old banyan trees.

“From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.”

― Carl Sagan

As I was reading Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I stopped to relish the section on trees. Though the book is largely about gardens, she does make a foray into trees briefly:
“Tree rings are wonderfully eloquent; here is time stated, time recorded, time made manifest. Dendrochronology- the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of tree rings-can determine past climates, or the age of a building, it can be used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, or by art historians to determine the date of a panel painting. And all because a tree grows slowly, systematically, but laying down each year a memory of what that year was likes – usually wet, dry cold, hot-whether the tree flourished and grew, or held back, and how many years have passed. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to the conclusion that this is why trees invite anthropomorphism. They are sentient in a way that a building cannot be.”

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When I read this piece in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I thought to myself, that Covid-19 would not register in the life of trees, would it? Droughts, wildfires, these may, but Covid-19 would not. The human suffering is acute – there is no doubt about it. The true heroes are the front-line workers, such as doctors, nurses, water and essential service providers, cleaners, mailmen, supply chain workers for groceries and medication who are braving the outbreak to keep society functioning as best as it can, while the virus takes it toll. The human toll is one thing, Covid-19’s economic ramifications is quite another, reminding us of the tottering pile we have built our societies upon: Stock markets indices, economies, international boundaries, – everything that a virus can thwart on a whim.

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What would Covid-19 imprint in our psyches? It can be a time of transformation. A time of reflection. A time to prune the unnecessary, a time to nurture the necessary, a time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones better. A time to think of needs vs wants.  A time of quiet.

We may never have taken pandemic preparedness seriously. Covid-19 is teaching us about the importance of these things. What would we need to do for far more severe outbreaks, with water-borne or air-borne diseases in the future? I am sure these will never be treated with the same levity ever again.

“Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The more I think about it, the more I want to believe that we shall embrace Science as a Candle in the Dark. Many children will take up research in microbes. I hope we shall, from now on, invest in our infrastructure, in our research, in our general preparedness, and appreciate the fragility of life and our social ecosystems itself. Our rings in time will bear out the wisdom in the coming years if only we learn from it. One dark circle reverberating it’s learnings outward, and spreading light in the subsequent rings afterward.

“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. And the cumulative worldwide build-up of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a trans-national, trans-generational meta-mind.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

References:

  • Life in the Garden – By Penelope Lively
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark – Carl Sagan

2 thoughts on “The Rings of Life”

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