Understory

2 min
at 10:43 PM

The big things in nature get our attention, but it’s the small things, often literally at our feet, that can be utterly fascinating. Peggy Hansen has this Perspective.

Look up, by all means--humble yourself before the giants, stands and fairy rings of ancient redwoods that steal breath and restore wonder. Look up, absolutely, and consider what in this great world is truly sacred. But don't forget to look down, too.

Don't neglect the tiny mosses, the mottled leaves, the strands and clumps of lichen, bits of bark, or rafts of cool green ferns. Don't miss the glacial progress of banana slugs across the forest floor, bizarre and garish as they ruffle silently beside the trail. Or the single flower, a burning dot of white, in an emerald field of redwood sorrel. Don't miss the imprints in the muddy margin of the path, where a fawn and its mother stopped to drink, and listen to the Stellar's jays and acorn woodpeckers. Don't miss the peeling bark of a madrone, shedding snake-like to reveal a newborn, silky recreation of itself---or the curls of discarded skin, brittle lacy sheets that coat the earth with delicate whimsy, infinite and strange.

Don't miss the tree roots, twined and twisted in a complex grammar beyond our sense of language. Trees, we are discovering, have families and clans, and support networks, that reach deep underground. It turns out they converse--many plants do, we've begun to know--with chemical signals or through microbial messengers. And they listen, too: maybe they can hear your footfalls on the trail, or the joke your hiking companion just told. You can't see them doing it, but isn't it great to imagine that you can, if you really pay attention?

So yes, look up, do. But look also to the understory, the complex and tangled net of life, and death, that creates, forms, and feeds the giants towering above. Otherwise, you're only seeing half the forest.

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With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

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Peggy Hansen is an organic farmer and photographer based in Santa Cruz.

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