wisdom of the pines

as an ecological epidemic sweeps through the mountains of british columbia, is anyone speaking the truth? eileen delehanty pearkes listens to the trees in the 7th of a 10-part series exploring the yamas & niyamas.

illustrations by aimée van drimmelen

After a winter of stillness, the Earth has begun to breathe again. I can hear plants all around me responding to the signals only they understand: warmer temperatures, longer days, access to nutrients released into the soil by last autumn’s leaves. The trees, the shrubs, the mosses and the bulbs below the surface speak the instinctual language of growth. I walk in the woods, listening to the chatter. Swelling branch tips capture raindrops, where the water glistens like crystals in light breaking through clouds. A riot of chartreuse leaves wave their shiny hands in the swelling air. The first flowers open delicate petals. Insects hover, waiting for pollen to dust their wings.

On the forested flanks that descend steeply to the valley floor, evergreens recite a verdant and reliable prose: hemlock, cedar, spruce and fir sprout new needles at branch tips. Their graceful limbs dance in the softening wind. The temperate, interior rainforest where I live boasts a remarkable variety of evergreen species, from those needing moist soil along creek beds to those prefer-ring rocky outcrops and large quantities of sun.

Amidst the wash of lyrical green, I also hear the broken red language of lodgepole and ponderosa pine. These evergreens are dying in great numbers. They are two species of tree that form part of a large-scale ecological disaster in the province of British Columbia. When I look up to the mixed forests blanketing the mountain slopes, I can pick out the pines even from a distance. They are the red ones.

The first sign of pines dying on a large scale can be traced to 1993, when forests farther north in the province began to suffer the effects of a tiny black beetle that chews on the bark of mature trees and kills them if left unchecked. Only recently has this decade-old crisis become more directly visible to me. The beetle has munched its way south. On some ridges in the valley where I live, the red has nearly eclipsed the green. The changing colour of the pines speaks a truth that is neither pleasant nor easily accepted. These hundreds of thousands of reddened trees will not survive another year. Next spring, they will be skeletons rattling in the wind.

I have been conditioned by both my education and my religious upbringing to define truth as something that involves spoken or written human language. Speak the truth. Tell the truth. Write the truth. Truth, many of us would say, is a matter of knowledge or fact or belief, not the purview of trees. My observations of the natural world have always challenged the cultural tendency around me to define truth as something rational, or exclusively a product of the mind and heart. I hear truth being spoken all the time by the landscape. I try to listen, though I can’t say I always like what I hear.

Eileen Delehanty Pearkes practises Ashtanga Yoga and lives in Nelson, BC. She is the author of The Geography of Memory and co-author of The Inner Green. Her third book, The Glass Seed, was released by timeless books in November 2007. Eileen’s exploration of the yamas and niyamas will continue in the next issue, as she interprets ahimsa (or non-violence / consideration of others).

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life