Saturday, September 20, 2014

If a Tree Falls

My home office is oriented so that when I sit at my desk I face a sliding glass door that looks out into the woods behind our house. At this time of year it is still dense with greenery, with dappled sunlight playing off the leaves and trees. It's not uncommon to have chipmunks and squirrels scampering about, and birds flying through. Occasionally I'll see a deer poke its head out; later in the season they will get bolder in their quest for food, but for now they pretty much stay further back in the thicket. The occasional cat wanders by, and I have even spotted a fox or two, though they're usually gone almost as soon as I recognize what it is.  

On this one particular morning I glanced up as I was trying to digest the implications of a budget which had just been sent to me. I wasn't really looking much beyond my nose, but as I considered dollars and cents I shifted my focus further away. My gaze alighted on one particular tree. It wasn't close, maybe 50 yards, half a football field away. It attracted my attention because the sun was shining on it just so, almost as if it was being hit with a spotlight from the balcony. And as I watched, I noted it began to sway a bit more than its neighbors.  

We're not talking a little twig here. This was a pretty good size oak, a solid two feet across, and maybe a hundred or more feet tall. It was far from dead, with a thick green, spreading canopy that I could clearly see. It was the kind of tree that you could hang a swing from, or build a treehouse in, or gather the family around for picture. In short, it was the kind of old growth that was here long before I appeared, and one I would have expected to be here long after I'm gone.  

But as I watched it I saw ever-so-slow movement near the base. I quickly shifted my eyes upwards, and saw its leaves begin to accelerate against their neighbors, moving far more swiftly than the gentle breeze could claim credit. As I watched, I saw the entire length begin to pivot, and heard the unmistakable sound of tearing wood and rushing air. It accelerated through the neighboring branches and leaves, ripping and thrashing its way to the ground as only a ton and a half of hardwood can do when it has  gravity on its side. With a resounding thud it buried itself in the brush and dirt which was its immediate neighborhood, kicking up a small cloud of dust and detritus.  

Almost as fast as it began, it was over. A casual glance towards that same spot revealed nothing amiss. Sure, perhaps it wasn't as dense in that one exact spot as it had been moments before. But peering along the axis on which I was sitting showed no discernable difference. It's just that that one particular tree was gone from my sight, causing me to wonder if it was ever there in the first place.  

I stepped out into the yard and walked into the woods. It was just as still as it had been before. On the ground lay this massive piece of nature, horizontal rather than vertical, but impressive none the less. Like others I could see scattered about, nothing suggested the transformation I had just seen; it could have been created that way. Only its splintered base gave evidence to the violent act that had happened perhaps a week, a year or a decade before. Except I knew that it was barely a single minute.  

It's an age old question, and I can't say that I have the definitive scientific answer. Indeed, some strange rearranging in the natural world might have occurred at the exact spatial coordinates where I was sitting. Just the very fact that I happened to look up and watch it might have caused the celestial volume knob to be twisted to the open position. But at least for purposes of this discussion, put those caveats aside. For whatever it's worth, in this particular little corner of the world that we inhabit, I, your faithful correspondent can indeed report with absolute certainty this fact: when a tree falls in the forest, it does indeed make a sound.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to look out his window in all seasons. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www., as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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