Looking around me, it seems clear that life is thedriving force on this planet. Was it Darwin who said that nature abhors a vacuum? I learned from reading his Origin of Species that any niche or "vacancy' in the natural world will be filled. Life always pushes forward, begetting more life. And life finds ingenious ways to surmount obstacles, to adapt and change if necessary. I think of Albert Schweitzer who observed that all beings, even the tiniest, strive to live. The life force drives us all.
I was reminded of life's persistence this morning when I took a stroll into the woods. Not very far down the hill was the stump of a chestnut oak tree. It was very old. The diagonal cut that had severed the tree from its base has smoothed, darkened, and the perimeter of the cut has rounded with time. The stump's bark is covered with the green of lichens that have made the stump their home.
To my surprise, the stump was the center of aformation I had not seen anywhere else. Surrounding the stump was a wide, thick, brushy "wreath.' So large and wreath-like did it look that I could imagine its having been removed from a giant's door and placed on the ground circling the stump.
What is this ring about, I wondered. As I looked closer, I saw that it was largely made of woody sprouts, or suckers, hundreds of them, shooting upward all about the stump. The suckers appeared to have been clipped at the top,perhaps by hungry deer. But as I dug through the dry, brown leaves that had collected in the "wreath' and that gave it its full, wreath-on-the door look, I found here and there small green chestnut oak leaves growing from the suckers. This stump, "killed' so long ago, and that looked so dead, was alive! It was trying to reclaim its "treehood,'as it reached toward the sun from all around its base, as it continued to make leaves.
Another stump, a dead one, I am sure, was supporting life of a different sort. This stump, cut in such a way as to just miss being a nice little chair, serves as home, now to one type of fungus, and now to another. For the last several weeks I've noticed that plump, firm, off-white fungi seem to burst from the long-ago cuts that had rendered the tree into a stump. One of the growths seemed to squeeze forth from between two closely made cuts. As I examined these recent growths, I recalled that the stump had looked different not long ago. Then, it was another fungus's turn. Instead of plump, firm fungi living in its cuts, the stump then supported thin, rubbery brown striped "turkey tails', marching up one side of the stump in a surprisingly even line.
Walking farther into the woods, I noticed that the same thing was happening with the dead logs littering the forest floor. They toohave become a source of life for several kinds of fungus. Pale green, leafy-looking growths dotted one log, and tiny white fans followed a furrow along the bark of another log. And many logs were brushed with patches of pale green lichen.
As I was looking about, I did a double take. What was the dark, round form encased in a very dead, driftwood-like formation just a few feet away?Nestled tight between the earth and a cave-like curve in the deadwood, it turned out, was a darkened and dead basketball. How long had it been there, I wondered? How many years ago did the ball slip from a child's hand and roll down the hill,to be caught and sheltered until now in some dead tree's grasp ?
Unlike the wood that has changed from one form of life to another, this basketball, once part of the life of a child (perhaps mine), and not biodegradable, is now simply dead.--April Moore