The Last Tree

In Play #4

The last tree fell some time in the night. Altar, bond, and measure of the community, the mighty trunk now lies humbled. Was it hewn by mortal means? Split by lightning? Uprooted by a great wind? Or did it simply collapse from the burden of its own massive frame, insides dry and brittle, a gnarled vestige of a once verdant earth? Cause yet unknown, the people gather, and remember.

Trees are memory. Their rings signify the deep time of the land, a natural record of climate and strife. Earlywood, growing in spring and early summer, is light-coloured and its rings wider. Latewood, growing in late summer and early fall, is dark-coloured and its rings narrower. One ring of earlywood and one ring of latewood constitute a year of growth.

The wider a ring of earlywood, the warmer and wetter the year; the thinner, the colder and dryer. Drought can reduce earlywood rings to almost nothing, and traumatic events like forest fires can lead to blackened layers around which new wood grows. Knots signify where branches once joined the trunk, but were broken or lopped off. Shakes, parallel separations between layers, were originally thought to be caused by wind, but are in fact caused by bacteria entering the tree through the roots. Splits are caused by mechanical forces, either growth stresses or external trauma.

Darker earlywood rings near the core of the tree are the heartwood, and are older and more resistant to decay. Lighter earlywood rings around the heartwood are the sapwood, and are younger, still living, drawing up water collected from the earth by the roots of the tree and delivering it to the leaves. Ratios of heartwood and sapwood vary between species.

The community comes together around their great root, drawn into their shared history by its rings. Together, they recount their past, narrating the succession of years, until what was becomes what is. Perhaps a cause for its fall will be determined. Perhaps not. Regardless, when the last ring is counted and remembered, they will leave this place for good.

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