Twenty-two people (including two new participants!), from Canada, Greece, ME, MI, NJ, NY, PA, OR, and UT, gathered via Zoom to discuss a prose passage from A Low and Quiet Sea (2018) by Donal Ryan, posted below. Participants imagined a parent talking to a child before bedtime. Some heard a mother speaking; others a father. One felt the narrator was speaking to her and then felt disappointed when, at the last line, she realized that the narrator was addressing someone else One explicit “rule,” which, apparently, is being repeated is “Be kind.” Because of the information about trees–how they slowly form communities, communicate, and feed each other root to root–we heard embedded in the text that patience is also being taught. Patience + Kindness = Survival. One person told the group that the oldest trees in the US is a stand of aspens in Utah. We wondered, when hearing the parent settle the child for the night and say, “Tomorrow will be long,” what would transpire in that near future. Were they going to visit grandparents, their “roots”? Or is this beginning setting a scene in a story about growing up with children separating child and parent in time and space?
Intertextually, there were references to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the novel “Braided Sweetgrass.”
Writing for four minutes to the prompt: “Write a dialogue between two or more trees” brought rich narratives of trees, a few of which were even given names – “Marcus” and “Greenleaf”. We saw trees weathering the seasons and imagined the consciousness of trees that sometimes ignore humans and sometimes wonder why the humans do what they do and also welcome their embraces. One asked if trees are competitive, if they feel pain, and if they grieve when another tree dies. One wondered whether the trees learn something from us. Another narrative, evoking the unintentional damage that humans inflict on trees, seemed a plea to reflect and understand our stewardship of the natural world.
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LET ME TELL you something about trees. They speak to each other. Just think what they must say. What could a tree have to say to a tree? Lots and lots. I bet they could talk for ever. Some of them live for centuries. The things they must see, that must happen around them, the things they must hear. They speak to each other through tunnels that extend from their roots, opened in the earth by fungus, sending their messages cell by cell, with a patience that could only be possessed by a living thing that cannot move. It would be like me telling you a story by saying one word each day. At breakfast I would say it, the word of the story, then I’d kiss you and I’d go to work and you’d go to school and all you’d have of the story is that single word each day and I would give no more until the next day, no matter how you begged. You’ll have to have the patience of a tree, I’d say. Can you imagine how that would be? If a tree is starving, its neighbors will send food. No one really knows how this can be, but it is. Nutrients will travel in the tunnel made of fungus from the roots of a healthy tree to its starving neighbor, even one of a different species. Trees live, like you and me, long lives, and they know things. They know the rule, the only one that’s real and must be kept. What’s the rule? You know. I’ve told you lots of times before. Be kind. Now sleep, my love, tomorrow will be long.
From a Low and Quiet Sea. (2018) Donal Ryan. P3.