Sunday morning Woodhaven looks like a rough squall of books strewn across my bed with periscopes of tattered post-it notes and ripped bits of paper marking vignettes and sweet snippets of reason. There’s buttered coffee and cotton candy clouds outside my 5am window. The gate can wait.
It doesn’t take much to inhale the idea that tree roots are flora-brains and that men are human pollinators. Let that sink in for a bit and thank Stephen Harrod Buhner while you’re at it. Newfoundlanders have a saying, “big snow little snow, little snow big snow,” meaning, if the snowflakes are large there’ll be a small amount falling and if the snowflakes are small it’ll pile high and make for a big dump. That’s how I feel about the current climate of worldly concerns. The american election and the Olympics hold little weight for me compared to the timing of salamanders leaving the pond or knowing when the screech owl calls. This dawning paradise unfolds before me with a sober sermon on the damage that can be done when humans alter the natural landscape, it is a homily delivered from the pulpit of the indubitable Clark’s Nutcracker.
In an elegant symbiosis, this diligent corvid stores up to 100 white pine seeds in a sublingual pouch. When the pouch is full the seeds are deposited in caches spread over an area of up to ten square miles. Some 30,000 seeds in over 10,000 locations (two to five seeds in each cache) are stored every year. Each location of every seed is recalled for up to two years when the bird returns and some seeds are eaten while others are left to germinate. The remarkable thing here is that the Clark’s Nutcracker has the capacity for both memory and mathematics but the real kicker is how these calculations and recollection unfold and this is the part where humans changing the natural landscape is problematic. You see, the Clark’s Nutcracker is able to return to each of these 10,000 locations to find those 30,000 seeds and locate them within a fraction of an inch of where they’ve been buried. They do this by using a sophisticated form of triangulation. As they make a flyover in the general area, they get visual clues from large landscape features like tall trees, boulders, dips in the terrain and creek beds. Once they land they measure exactly by eye, the distance between a stone and a tree, a boulder and a branch, the precise location of their cache. This analysis of distance and differentials along with the capacity to hold memory is mind boggling, not to mention tremendously sophisticated. Now, if you consider that this memory lasts over two years then there are in fact 20,000 locations and up to 60,000 seeds involved in this transaction. That all of this is remembered and located within a fraction of an inch via landscape and habitat triangulation mathematics is simply miraculous. Unbeknownst to most people, the Clark’s Nutcracker performs an essential service in the efforts to reforest white pine which in turn becomes critter habitat while providing a density in the canopy where underneath, small shade plants grow. All of this happens while the world watches elections.
Up on the hillside below those cotton-candy clouds I can hear a front-end loader moving dirt. There’s a fancy-pants development above the clay cliff that edges the northern rim of Woodhaven and it seems that Saturday and Sunday is when they work. They strip the land of rocks and trees, clear out all memory of what it was, pour concrete and build gargantuan homes then lay turf that requires smelly gas powered mowers and copious quantities of water. It’s the little snow, big snow. Every inch, every movement of dirt and each felling of a tree accumulates. And inch by inch, foot by foot, the landscape and all that weaves with it is ripped away like skin off an open wound. The Clark’s Nutcracker isn’t the only one to calculate time and distance, employ memory and location to negotiate the wild. The critters know, they compensate by moving. The forest knows, it ponies up as best it can. The most I can do is bear witness from my perch and silently hope that the catholics are loaning at least a few Hail Marys for the culpable.
Buhner, Stephen H. Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. Rochester, Vermont: Bear and Company, 2014.