A character driven mystical novel about how trees really communicate with one another and the infinite complexity of nature
This book has come the closest to describing a mystical experience I myself had– which I think is nearly impossible to do since I think mystical experiences are ineffable.
But here’s the passage, which I think is simply beautiful. I don’t even think it needs any context.
A man in the boreal north lies on his back on the ground at down. his head extends from his one-man tent, facing upward. Five thin cylinders of white spruce register the breeze above him. Gravity is nothing. The evergreen tips stretch and scribble on the morning sky. He’s ever really thought about the many miles a tree travels, in smallest cursive increments, each hour of every day. Forever in motion, these stationary things.
The man with his head sticking out of the tent asks himself: What are those treetops like? They’re like the cog-toothed drawing toy, spinning out surprise patterns from the simplest nested cycles. They’re like the tip of a Ouija planchette, taking dictation from beyond. They are, in fact, like nothing but themselves. They are the crowns of five white spruces laden with cones, bending in the wind as they do every day of their existence. Likeness is the sole problem of men.
But the spruces pour out messages in media of their own invention. They speak through their needles, trucks, and roots. They cord in their own bodies the history of every crisis they’ve lived through. The man in the tent lies bathed in signals hundred of millions of years older than his crude senses. And still he can read them.
The five white spruces sign the blue air. They write: Light and Water and a little crushed stone demand long answers. Nearby lodge poles and jack pines demur: Long answers need long time. And long time is exactly what’s vanishing.
The black spruces down the drumlin put it bluntly: Warm is feeding on warm. The permafrost is belching. The cycle speeds up.
Farther south, broad leaves agree. Noisy aspens remnant birches, forests of cottonwood and poplars, take up the chorus: The world is turning a new thing.
The man rolls over onto his back, face-to-face with the morning sky. The messages swarm him. Even here, homeless, he thinks: Nothing will be the same.
The spruces answer: Nothing has even been the same.
We’re all doomed, the man thinks.
We have always all been doomed.
But things are different this time.
Yes, You’re here.
The man must rise and get to work, as the trees are already doing. His work is almost done. He’ll strike camp tomorrow, or the day after. But this minute, this morning, he watches the spruces writing and thinks, I wouldn’t need to be so very different for sun to seem to be about sun, for green to be about green, for joy and boredom and anguish and terror and death to all be themselves, beyond the need for any killing clarity, and then this- this, the growing right of light and water and stone– would take up all of me, and be all the words I need.The Overstory, A Novel, Richard Powers
So it’s a character driven mystical book, based partly on the real life and research of Suzanne Simard— don’t get too attached to anything. Richard Powers kills more darlings than George RR Martin. But this book has a narrative and a character that has helped me reconcile my own link between a digital and physical love of nature. I’ve pondered before on how I could be so attracted to the digital when I also have a deep love and enjoy spending time in real, unfiltered nature / creation and how my role models include nature loving mystics like St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Buddha, and Christ.
20 minute TED talk but the stories about grizzly bear escapes and the revelations about how forest trees communicate make it worth it for sure.
The latest issue of WIRED magazine also ran a small feature on The Overstory, mentioning Suzanne Simard’s work.Continue reading “Mindfulness in gaming series 3: The Overstory”