The ingratitude of trees — and us — for leaves every autumn
There they are each spring without fail. On every twig on every branch in every place where deciduous trees grow. Buds that will unfurl into leaves.We take their shade for granted all summer and then grumble about having to rake them up each autumn.
Let’s take a moment to consider how miraculous each leaf is, hmm?
A leaf, each leaf — even the tiniest — is a marvel that turns sunlight into the food all trees and plants need to live while also releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Think about that for a moment. It is the very definition of a miracle. Keep your loaves and fishes. Walking on water? Cheap parlor tricks compared to what leaves are doing all around us all the time. And since you’re about to ask, yes, there are smarty-pants in laboratories that have replicated this process but you don’t even want to know what it costs and how pitifully inadequate it is for the job of keeping countless billions of sets of lungs filled with breathable oxygen.
So there they are, year in and year out, laboring away to keep their trees fed with the unintended side effect of being responsible for the process of complex biological evolution. You know: us…and duckbilled platypuses among a few kajillion other life forms.
And how are they thanked for a long summer of hard work? The tree cuts off nutrients to them as soon as the weather cools, they dry up and get dropped from the body they have kept alive all summer. Think about that. Kind of like what bosses do as soon as the economy cools a bit and they start laying off the workers who are responsible for the company’s success. In starker terms, it would be like allowing our hands and feet — the appendages responsible for our mobility and ability to feed ourselves — to wither and fall off each year to save on blood flow (ok, right, not exactly analogous but it amps up my argument and is suitably gory).
Is that any way to show appreciation for leaves? I’m talking to you, trees outside my window, trees I’ve watched send out new branches and grow taller year by year for two decades thanks to the tireless work of every year’s jettisoned crop of leaves.
Those leaves were part of your body, trees. And somewhere in the sap and linings of your branches and twigs is the stuff that will quicken in the spring to burst forth into more green life-giving loveliness.
And once again, you — and we — will stay alive because of the relentless work of all those astonishing little biological miracles.
Yes, I know I’m indulging in anthropomorphization. Trees are incapable of ingratitude as the response to a wholly natural cycle.
At least, that’s what we think. You remember us.
We’re the weird, nearly hairless apes with the gigantic brains. The ones who could very well succeed in killing off everything that maintains life on this planet. We’re so full of scientific knowledge and rational understanding that of course, it’s ridiculous to think that beings that are responsible for the air that we breathe could “feel” anything.
Does the tree miss its leaves when its branches are being whipped about by winter winds?
Can trees sigh in relief at that good soaking rain that comes after weeks of brutal heat?
Do they wiggle and stretch their roots in delight?
Do leaves resent having been used and cast aside like disposable tissues as they lay among the piles of other leaf corpses on the ground where kids trample them and dogs pee on them?
Does panic run along the branches after the first chill signals that the end is nigh?
Do you care enough about what leaves feel?
Do any of us?