YOU CANNOT LOOK AT something from another perspective unless you move. This is not some grand statement about the importance of travel, but a simple fact of optics. In order to get a different view of the bookshelf that sits across from my desk, I must move my head a little bit, or perhaps go sit in my easy chair. Actually, that sounds really comfortable. I’m going to do that.
Okay. Back to the point. It must be hard, getting perspective, as a tree. Rooted to that same spot for a hundred or even a thousand years, changes only coming slowly and imperceptibly with your growth and the change of the environment around you. Even if trees had mouths and large cerebral cortices, we’d have trouble debating them. “Look at it from my point of view,” we’d say, and they’d respond with “I can change my point of view about as much as you can drink water through your toes.”
Humans, on the other hand, are movers. All animals are, but humans especially so. Crawdads scuttle from the bottom of one rock to another, and gila monsters may lumber to a neighboring stone with better sun, but none of them move as radically as humans. Even the birds and fish and bugs that make great, massive migrations don’t travel to as diverse and strange places as we do. They may move from tundra to jungle, but they don’t move from the stratosphere to the depths of the Marianas. And they certainly don’t leave their kind behind in search of a new and different life.
The sedentary life.
“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy. Unfulfilled,” Carl Sagan once said. “Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.”
“We invest far-off places with a certain romance. The appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection, as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game… none of them last forever. Your own life, or your bands, or even your species might be owed to a restless few drawn by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand to undiscovered lands and new worlds.”
In times like our own, the command from above is to be like a tree, to stay in one place, and to accept what can only be seen from your own spot. It is comfortable being a tree, no doubt, with little change or upheaval, and with the satisfaction of knowing what you see when the sun goes down today is what you’ll see when the sun comes up tomorrow.
To be anything other than a tree, to move, to see things from other perspectives, is heresy. A tree does not need anything beyond what’s immediately around it. Sunlight, soil, rain, maybe a gentle breeze — what more could you want than that? Why is all that is necessary not enough?
It is an understandable thought for a tree. For a tree, to move too much is to be killed. We, mercifully, are not trees, and should not imagine that we are. We are humans. We move.
The threat of “They.”
I’ve been told, by trees that I know and trust, that our culture cannot be reconciled with theirs. Today, “They” are usually Muslims, but “They” is title that designates different groups from generation to generation — it was once communists, it was once Jews, it was once Native Americans, it was once the British. But the attributes of “They” never changes — “They” aren’t to be trusted, “They” are a threat to our way of life, “They” hate us, and thus must be fought or kept out, “They” are all of these things because that’s just the way “They” are.
But I have been to visit “They,” and I can’t entirely distinguish “They” from “Me.” Except for the accident of my birth, I expect that I would be exactly like them, and no better or worse for it. Many of them are trees, and are surprised to find out that I look so similar to them, now that I’m up close. I run home and tell the trees that — well… how to explain it?
You know how when the wind blows really hard, and you bend, and can see just a little further around the corner than you usually can? Okay — imagine that without falling down, you bent all the way around the corner and down the street. Imagine you bent all the way to the top of that mountain you can see in the distance, and you were looking down on this same spot from up there.
You’d be looking at the same place, right? But it would look really different, right?
This, understandably, is not an easy thing to explain to a tree. It may be better to just say to them, “You are not a tree. You are a human. Now move!”