The scents and stories of a stump.
The scent of fall permeates the woods behinds our house when we approach them. Max “smelled it” yesterday, and so I shared what I find to be a beautiful description of this scent’s biochemical origins and how it relates to us.
Under withering leaves, under the wanderer’s foot: a manifold life that his eye cannot discover and his ear cannot hear. From every speck of this soil, millions of fungi send out the heavy odors that are autumn’s. In every square yard live hundreds or worms, spiders, and mites, and many pounds of algae and bacteria. The earth underfoot is teeming life, and all things in that miniature world are interconnected.
The leaves have fallen and the light reaches more easily down to the soil, enlivening a multitude of microorganisms whose struggle for existence has much to do with fallen leaves. Each and every organism is specialized for its assignment. Yeast fungi take care of the leftover sugar, which the leaves had not delivered to the twigs, branches, and trunk before being shed, and ferment it into alcohol; bacteri drink the alcohol and give off acetic acid, which still other organisms throw themselves upon– and so it goes until leaves once fluttered in the wind are broken down into simple salts that can be sucked up by the roots of the tree and so enter its chlorophyll-green blood of new fluttering leaves.
What happens in the miniature world at the foot of the tree happens in creation as a whole. Everywhere connections and bonds between different organizations of living matter and, ultimately, between life and nonlife. Everywhere dependence, influence, stimulation. Everywhere everything interacting with everything.
Everywhere decay and recreation- which need each other. Everywhere the new combinations that living evolution produces out of old elements. Individuals die and are broken down into cell parts, which enter into the humus of the soil, into water and air. But the constituents reenter new living things. Matter continually changes its address. Life eats itself unceasingly through soil and water and air that has nourished and refreshed innumerable living things since the beginning of time and will nourish and refresh new living things for as long as living conditions exist on the planet…
Look at yourself! Into your skeleton have melted the rocks of bygone ages. Your bloodstream is moved with the tidewaters from a distant sea. Your flesh is composed of elements that have passed through uncountable life forms: plants, animals, and other human beings. When your hand touches mine, it is the earth that grasps me.
The air washing your lungs and oxygenating your blood is filled with atoms that have visited other living beings. Out of the exhalations of trees and plants you secure the oxygen without which no animal could live. With every breath you capture ten million times more nitrogen atoms than there are human beings in existence, and several million more argon atoms.
At The Foot of the Tree by Rolf Edberg