This Invisible Strength
Everything falls eventually. It could be the rain that does it—days and days and days of rain. The alders can’t take it. They break themselves and drop in pieces large and small. A cold spell can snap a redcedar in two from the middle. Most often, it’s the wind that makes the move. When the most ambitious gusts put pedal to the metal, all you can do is hope that tonight isn’t the night one of those 100-foot tall firs decides to join you in bed via a new access point its careening bulk has created in your roof.
It’s entirely plausible to have favorite trees even when you’re surrounded by so many of them. It must be human nature to have favorites. Why else would we ask each other this question all the time? What’s your favorite color? favorite food? favorite movie? song? book? flower?—as if the heart and the mind have an innate need to stack-rank whatever we fill up our lives with. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have any favorites of one thing or another. Parents aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but I’m pretty sure a good number of them do.
When I set up the first trail camera, placing it strategically on a curve in the trail where I had seen multiple animal tracks, I didn’t notice that the tree I was attaching it to was already dead. It was so tall, and the trunk seemed thick and viable. Like a lot of people, I forget to look up as often as I should. It was only a year or so later, that I realized the tree was not alive. But it was strong enough to hold that camera steady, and that steady camera was lucrative! Owls, squirrels, robins and racoons; birds, bunnies, rats and coyotes; the neighbor’s cats; the neighbor’s kids; bucks, bucks, bucks; my own dog when he took off one night. It captured them all!
This camera suffered antler jabs, wind storms and countless drops of rain. I regularly patted the tree that held the camera and wished it well, for what was I going to do when it was gone? “Stay strong,” I whispered into it’s bark as I changed the batteries in the trail cam. And it did, for so long. But it could not last.
I used to feel a little sad when a tree—even a dying one—collapsed, but I no longer look at these falls as deaths but as transitions in how donations are made to the cause. All these years, while standing, this tree provided shade and oxygen; platforms and cavities for nests; perches, lookouts, and food. And now, in repose it will continue to offer habitat, food and nutrients for decades and decades to come.
The same is true when people who love us leave us behind. Even after death, those we have known and loved—whether a parent, partner, sibling or friend—continue to give us what we need to survive. They still feed and protect us, even though it doesn’t look or feel the same as it did once before.
My parents had four children, and growing up my friends would sometimes ask me, “Which one is their favorite?” and because they were my friends they would add, “It must be you.” But I would have to answer, “No, I’m not their favorite. They love us all the same.” And they did. I’m not sure if I understood that completely when I was young.
But I understand it now. I understand that this invisible strength another person gives you because they love you wholly and fairly; this core of you—your heartwood—it’s rare, and you are lucky to have it. Not everyone gets that gift. And you would do well to offer just as much back to everyone you can for as long as you live and a long while after that as well.
The tree with camera GH01 fell sometime during the evening of January 8th. This is the first image it captured from its new perspective.
As mentioned in a previous post, this was one of those times when the SD card retained 92 separate files composed of what you see above—essentially, just wind and rain—from the hour of 10:27 PM on January 8th until 8:15 AM on January 9th. I am still working my way through all the files. Just in case…
The second-to-last image captured before the batteries gave up the ghost and the rain had its way with the antler-punctured lens shield. There’s something about the way the color temperature changes as the morning begins. Also, I have never seen those trees from this vantage point. Remember to look up...
RIP, GH01, and thank you for seeing everything I did not. (And yes, I will admit it—you were my favorite trail cam.)
Stirred, Not Shaken is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.