When Nature Goes Big
Every once in a while, in this highly diminished world of ours, one comes across something in nature that has been allowed to reach its full potential. It’s happened to me in the Singer Tract of Mississippi where the sewing machine giant had deeded a swath of cypress to the state and since then the trees have just grown and grown. It happened again on the edge of a marine protected area off California where halibut the size of picnic tables eased right up to the preserve’s edge. It even happened to me just a day’s drive from my home in New York City, on an Adirondack lake private owners had left to conservation. Trolling it with a spoon to catch a specimen for a local aquarium produced lake trout after lake trout, each of which would have bulged the eyes of any angler.
We need bigness all around us. We need it not just for maintaining environmental equilibrium. We need it to remind us of our own relative smallness
But my most recent encounter with nature’s bigness happened when I stumbled upon a life form this summer so common that it never had occurred to me how incorrectly I had perceived its potential. I was passing from the Isle of Mull in Scotland toward Inverness. Along the way, on the recommendation of a local writer, my family and I made a stop at Ariundle Preserve, a remaining fragment of a forest that once spanned the Atlantic coasts of Europe from Norway to Portugal. Stepping out onto the path we met this creature that was at once familiar and foreign. A member of the species Quercus robar, known as the common or pedunculate oak, soared up in front of us and spread its wide, shade giving limbs beneficently like some kind of goddess making ablutions. It was well over 200 years old. Yes, I’d seen an oak this big before. Repeat AN oak. But just to the right of this soaring goddess stood another. And then another and still more, flowing with green goodness down into the valley where a brook thrummed and frothed.
It was an orchestra whose lead instrumentalists were trees that had never in my experience played the melody they were supposed to play. They shaded, they protected, they stretched out their roots like giant trunk…