Outdoor Advent Day 6

A view of some autumn woodland, a thicket of trees in the back ground reach, branches bare, to the blue sky above. In the leaf covered foreground a pair of tree trunks block the way ahead.

In the Ramtops village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone life, they say, is only the core of their actual existance.

– page 268, Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Haven’t you ever heard the saying “A man’s not dead while his name is still spoken”?

– page 132, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

These two quotes – from the person who has probably influenced who I am more than any other whom I’ve never actually met – seemed a very appropriate follow up to yesterday’s post. I find both these ideas, which mesh together well – you keep speaking someone’s name if you continue to remember them and you remember them because the things they did keep reminding you of them – incredibly comforting. That Terry will live on far beyond this century is in no doubt. His ability to see right into the heart of human nature and write about every facet thereof in such a way that expanded the understanding of everyone who read his stories will continue to shared and talked about for many, many years.

But it is not just humans whose lives extend beyond death. Our beloved pets live on in our hearts and the stories we tell of them (one day I will finally set down the tale of Dog, who became the most feared pirate of Coniston Water for all of ten minutes) and we memorialise and honour those animals whose actions shaped our world (the Dickin Medal being the most obvious example of this). Even trees, who we now know “talk” to each other via what has been nicknamed the Wood Wide Web, continue to shape the place they grew in for years, possibly even decades, after they fall.

Those trunks in the photo fell across one of the paths in the wood. Now most humans skirt around them, creating a new footpath far to the right. The more agile humans, and the wood’s permanent residents, continued to walk the old path, passing either under or over the trunk, but this much lightened footfall means that more often than not, it no longer looks much like a path at all. Out of view to the left, the now upturned roots are sporting a fuzzy covering of moss interspersed with fungi and the occasional lichen. The part of the trunk that is touching the ground has already begun to rot into the earth. The tree has changed the ecosystem in its immediate surroundings in many ways since it’s death and it will go on changing for many years to come.

It also makes the perfect spot for this particular human to sit quietly and listen to the wood living all around her and, if she’s remembered to bring her notebook with her, write things which might, if she is lucky, go on to touch lives other than hers.

If mention of a “Wood Wide Web” has piqued your interest as much as it did mine when I first heard it, I can offer you a link to the brilliant TED talk given by Suzanne Simard about her research into it. Or, if you prefer books to videos, then The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben was my introduction to the subject.


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