Sunday, November 22, 2020

Letting Go: Nature Journaling #13

Last time I focused on how everything changes and used the evolution of a forest to support that idea.

I missed another week of my nature journaling last week. 2020 is really forcing some evolution. Covid19 spread and election results that the current president refuses to acknowledge have been consuming me more than I like to admit. Fun things have been occupying my time, too. BTS released another album and music video for Life Goes On and I’ve been on several hikes that have filled my body, mind, and spirit.

Clinging to something. Letting go of something. A tree branch I found in my yard this week is the inspiration for this week’s nature journaling about those important concepts.

Cottonwoods are extremely messy, fast-growing trees. I was out this week giving my cat some fresh air. As he sat and used his crazy hearing to seek out voles or shrews, I picked up branches. Eventually, I looked at one more closely. It was fascinating so I took some shots. This branch did not break off from the tree randomly. The end was smooth and rounded as if it could be plugged back into where it had been. It reminded me of a giant version of what the end of a leaf looks after it falls from the tree. 

Some research today led me to an article about small branch drop in cottonwoods by Mary Small. Sure enough, cottonwoods let go of branches when the tree is stressed- when there’s a summer drought, for example. Although it’s a net loss for the tree, it’s more advantageous for the tree long-term to cut its losses. Before they do so, however, the tree prepares. I am sure the process is similar to what occurs in the annual leaf drop: as many nutrients and water are pulled back into the tree before the branch is jettisoned.

Trees and people can both prepare to let some things go.

The results here were quite beautiful in my opinion. Looking closely (a magnifying glass would be helpful here) I could see cellular patterns within the inner and outer bark. The active cambium layer appears as a dark line right in front of the sapwood. The broken circle in the center is the pith. There are so many different parts clearly evident, but all of them end smoothly in an almost perfect semi-circle.

The tree neatly and efficiently let this branch go.

I learned that this process is called “cladoptosis”. What a fun word! I decided to work it into the visuals of this week’s journaling. I enjoyed transcribing info from the article into my book- almost making the words a branch of the tree. I added more facts about cottonwoods after I drew the end of the branch.

My drawing doesn’t express the roundness as well as I’d like. But slowly creating it drew me in. Other thoughts and worries dropped away as I focused on the patterns and colors I started to see. The cracks were angled fissures. I could see why they formed because of the overall structure of both the individual cells and the overall construction of the branch. The cracks were inevitable. I was impressed by how the bark rounded off and back over upon itself a bit, like a turtleneck sweater. The outer bark still clinging loosely to the branch shows just how dried out it became before falling to the grass far below where it originally grew.

If the tree simply lost that branch, the end would be tattered and oozing precious water, sugar, and minerals. That could lead to invasion by fungi or insects. The tree’s chances to go on for years to come may have been improved by dropping the parts I was picking off the ground that day. 

I’m looking ahead to another week now. I hope I can act as well as a tree responding to its environment: growing when I can, reaching out when I can, and pulling in only when it’s absolutely necessary.

Everything does more and has more opportunities that way.

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