The Death of Trees

crossposted with No Unsacred Place

It is no exaggeration to say that Pagans love trees. Our ancestors had tree alphabets and World Trees. We admire trees, photograph them and hug them. We hold sacred gatherings under them and among them. At times we commune with them. They are beautiful, strong, resilient and supportive of other life.

some trees live, some died

So it was saddening to hear news reports that last year’s drought killed as many as 500 million trees, up to 10% of all the trees in Texas. Some may only be dormant, but as the drought is expected to continue at least through the Spring there is little reason for optimism.

That’s the high end of a Texas Forest Service estimate. An exact count will take much longer, so it’s possible the actual number of trees killed by drought will be lower. But even here in North Texas where the drought isn’t quite as severe the effects are clear and unpleasant.

There isn’t a lot we humans can do. I made sure the live oaks in my front yard got enough water (watering restrictions wisely give trees a higher priority than lawns), but those are two trees out of billions. If the drought breaks later this year further damage will be avoided, but if the long-term climate really is becoming hotter and drier then millions more trees and perhaps whole species will disappear from the region.

If we can’t stop the trees from dying is there at least something we can learn from all this? For me there is.

Some trees are persistent – they’re green all year. Others are resilient – they’re stripped bare in Winter and then full of green in Spring. But an extended drought can kill either. Nothing lasts forever. Whatever good is in your life, love it, honor it, and enjoy it while you have it. Experience it and commune with it as deeply as you can. But don’t cling to it, because some day it will be gone.

For every living thing – from the simplest single-celled organism to dolphins and humans and giant redwoods – there are environments that are favorable and environments that are unfavorable. And since environments constantly change, so must we. If our surroundings become unbearable we must either change our environment (by modifying it or by moving) or change ourselves. We are more adaptable and far more mobile than the greatest tree, but in the end all species and all creatures face the same harsh but unavoidable choice: adapt or die.

Will this be a short-term drought and things will soon return to normal? I don’t know. Will this be a long-term “dust bowl” drought that will kill millions more trees and change the landscape for years to come? I don’t know. Is this the beginning of a climate change that will make North Texas unsuitable for large trees for centuries? I don’t know.

But I do know this. If it gets too dry for oaks, mesquite trees will grow. If it gets too dry for mesquite, cactus will grow. Go to the driest desert, the deepest ocean, the darkest cave, or the coldest mountain, and you will find life. A forest burns and a whole cycle of life begins. One species dies off and another moves in. An old tree falls and a dozen acorns sprout.

Life persists.

So should we.

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