If you were to design a tree, what would you call its ability to seek out water and nutrients from where it's planted? And what kind of superpowers would you bestow on this ability? Would you design "feelers" that could not only absorb and transport this aqueous solution, but also locate it? And not just randomly and blindly worm their way through their environment, but actually seek out sources and then take full advantage of what they find that's life-giving and sustaining for the tree?
This weekend, my daughter and her fiancée had a sewer backup at their house. The culprit? Tree roots in their sewer lateral between their house and the main in the street. Roots infiltrated the clay pipe through a joint, then grew into a dense mass until the water could no longer drain fast enough to empty the toilets without overflowing. It's a very common problem. One that got me thinking.
How does a tree "know" how to find water? What "guides" it to the pipe and then to its only access inside the pipe, through the joints? What then compels it to take full advantage of its find, growing the densest possible network of roots throughout this goldmine repository of water, oxygen and nutrients. And not just one tree. This intelligence seems to live in all trees.
Our physical senses, especially sight, seem to blind us to the incredible wisdom and awareness of all the living creatures around us, plants included. We look, but we don't see. Our sight ends at the edges of form. But this is beginning to change. Now, there are millions of accounts of people appearing to be unconscious, in coma or near death with eyes closed or taped shut for surgery, whose "vision" of their surroundings is both crystal clear and greatly enhanced. Not only are they fully conscious, they are aware as never before. They report 360 degree vision and the ability to travel anywhere through the power of thought while communicating with everyone and everything they encounter. And if that isn't mind-blowing enough, many experiences, like that of neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, are now confirmed for patients whose brain damage was so severe that an experience of any sort was neurologically impossible, eliminating brain function as the source of the experience.
So what is a tree? Far more than we think it to be. Perhaps the more poignant question is, what are we?
After finishing this piece, but prior to posting, I shared the topic with my family. In response, my oldest daughter, Alicia, added this Radiolab podcast link in the text thread: Smarty Plants. Apparently my curiosity is joined by those engaged in research on the subject and it is absolutely fascinating! You can go to the link above or listen to it here: