A TREE IN THE FOREST
Once a tree fell in the forest when nobody was there to hear the sound. The tree was straight and tall, with a trunk that rose from the ground as if it were a force of nature unto itself, ready to announce its defiance of any storm or landslide. From below, the tree’s crown was invisible in the canopy far above, beyond the mighty branches that had reached through those of kindred giants on every side, linking one tree to another across ridge after ridge for miles. Now those branches, shorn away in its fall, spread across the steep slope as if to touch again every needle that had ever floated down from them. The broken remains of trees that had toppled long before this one lay here and there around it, their former might now carried away piece after piece by ants. In the deep quiet of the forest floor, the tree began to reflect upon its own state. To have been standing so firmly rooted and now be stretched out here below and within a matter of decades to be no more—these changes might seem a steady undoing of the tree’s presence that would end in questions of its ever having existed at all. Leaving no more lasting trace of that existence than the sudden thunder of its collapse had left in the air. Though what difference did it really make whether anybody had heard that thunder, let alone seen the tree’s fall? Or that few had even known it was here deep within these woods in the first place? Did what counted about it depend in the slightest on the number of those whose comprehension of such things might begin and end with “Wow, what a big tree!”? There could be no doubt it had come crashing down, as all trees naturally must. Or doubt that the moss in which it now lay had not been torn and tossed great distances when it struck the ground. And even though new moss would cover its entire length soon enough and reclaim the forest soil when it had finally rotted away, until then its inch-by-inch decline would still bear the shape of a life drawn up over centuries through root and limb and now returning to the earth. Every ring grown out from the tree’s heart spoke of a force barely held in by now-riven bark that soon would nurse new saplings with its decay. And how many of these would fall in their own time, early or late, without the presence of a single witness to what sprouted, matured, and passed away here? Did any of that even matter? Knowing you’d stood here for your allotted time was enough. As was knowing a forest had stood within you. You, who’d listened to the sound of your fall with the same understanding as when you’d listened to autumn storms rage through your branches or the thawing snow gently drip from them with each return of spring. You, the sole testimony needed. Sound or no sound had nothing to do with it. Witness or no witness had nothing to do with it.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans