Douglas Fir Embroidery Decorates My Sabbatical Story Quilt
That sound, an other-worldly whushhh filtering from the tops of the pines—it stopped me in my tracks. A flood of memories took me back in time to other winds, other trees, mountain trails. I was once again on the trail around a distant Blue Lake hearing the wind ripple down the forested slope, refreshed inside and out by the sound, the morning light, the trees astir. The memory was refreshing me again as I resumed my local neighborhood walk, listening, hoping to hear the trees sing again. Soughing, a rustling, murmur, sighing, is the word for it. An elemental sound that resonates in the heart and spirit, I offer this as an example of the spiritual value of a forest—seeing the forest as more than the board feet of lumber in a tree trunk. The human spirit yearns for places to rest, re-group, take in the solitude of nature. We do well to set aside beautiful natural areas where we can fill up with spiritual values of beauty and wonder. We can explore and observe the intricacies of nature. We can also surround ourselves with planted gardens of rest and repose.
Continuing from my previous blog about the importance of green plants and plant communities, I wonder: what is the most serious problem that we face right now in the environment? Plant cover? It’s going fast. We have destroyed vast stands of U. S. forests; we have bulldozed ground cover for development without assessing overall losses. We bemoan the loss of tropical rainforests on other continents, yet we ourselves are guilty of wiping out enormous swaths of vegetation. We have waged war on plant communities rather than moving into green areas and becoming part of the community; learning to be a good neighbor; and living together for mutual benefit. It’s time to reflect on that. Can we seek a better way?
My morning walk brought memories of early childhood Douglas Fir stands I enjoyed when my environmental address was the landscape quilt of the Northwest rain forest. Those trees were also found in the Rocky Mountains where we traveled on Sabbatical year. The above quilt block from my Story Quilt shows an embroidered Douglas fir tree. I outlined the thick branches with chain stitch then filled them with detached needle weaving. The detached branches are anchored at each end with a small stitch as they “float” above the quilt fabric. The trunk is filled with a series of chain stitches, giving it a three-dimensional look.
Douglas fir is an important and beautiful tree in the northern (boreal) forest. In the Pacific Northwest pure stands of old-growth Douglas fir are breathtakingly beautiful forest cathedrals. A source of wonder, they are at risk in the hands of the short-sighted logging and/or the development world.
Home to a diverse world of life, the forest has a structure, an “architecture.” The architecture is usually considered to be three layers of vegetation: uppermost is a canopy of the tallest trees, a field of evergreen fir needles; the understory where light breaks through can be a multi-layer of herbs, shrubs and small trees, such as vine maple, Pacific rhododendron and salal. The third layer is ground surface which consists of a carpet of ferns, mosses, and broad-leaved herbaceous perennials. Recent research confirms the importance of the subterranean life that supports the surface plants. We might call it a “fourth level” of forest, an essential layer of fungi and microbes in the soil that are necessary for any growth at all. (See recommended reading below)
From the canopy to ground, all this greenery provides protection and food for a diverse array of birds and animals. Closed canopy forests are considered species-poor in some areas, but recent studies are finding the diversity richer than first reported as field ecologists investigate treetop life in minute detail. The “fourth level” mentioned above also expands species numbers if included in the study.
In the Rocky Mountains where we traveled we found Douglas fir on moist slopes but at times mixed with Ponderosa pine, as well as white fir, Colorado blue spruce, and others. Where two or more communities blend into each other, the mix is called an “ecotone.” The mixed forest opened up to include stands of aspen and open meadows, a robust environment that provided habitats for wildlife.
Mixed forest with golden aspen near Blue Mesa CO
How does this fit into our reflection on “how then shall we live?” Loss of plant cover on the earth is an immediate and basic problem, arguably our most basic problem. Green plants and algae are the basic food bank for life on earth. Becoming knowledgeable about our plant communities is essential to life, life right where we live. I walk through my local plant communities and enjoy noticing the layers of vegetation. The number of layers depends on where you live. Desert scrub may offer only a single open canopy layer. A tropical forest may offer several canopy layers. Knowing the layout will help us care for these marvelous life forms. Too much digging, too much cutting, too much trash, abuse, and overuse can be monitored and remediated. Remember too, the spiritual value. I savor the fragrance of living things, the rightness of green growing plants, the radiating peace. I say “hello” to favorites and pray for the health of the community. All the while, I listen for that other-worldly whushhh in the treetops.
Tune in next month for more Story Quilt reflections and studies. For a colorful explanation of Minnesota plant communities, check out the following link: (https://northshoreforest.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/NPC_lite2.pdf)
Nature Notes: Locate your nearest wild plant community. Can you identify the vegetation levels? Canopy, shrubbery/short trees, ground cover of herbaceous plants? Turn over a rock or a decayed branch and observe the life that gives life. Be sure to put it back, then listen for soughing in the treetops.
Gospel Lifestyle: If your forest or prairie has been overcut or overdeveloped to satisfy humankind’s insatiable cravings, remember this Scripture: “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. . .’” (Ex 16:16. NIV) The people learned that meant: “only as much as they need . . . ” You know the story: the leftover manna spoiled, “became full of maggots and began to smell”(v. 20). Is that any different than when we flood Thrift Stores with our discarded goods, or leave them to molder in a storage unit?
Let us whisper a prayer for the health and protection of the earth’s life-giving plant cover the Creator established in the beginning.
- The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us by Meg Lowman. https://canopymeg.com/speaker-and-author/
- Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. https://suzannesimard.com/