I soon noticed a huge old oak tree. It reminded me of one that I visit frequently in Mount Pleasant near the river, but the one at MSU was both more uniform in its growth (it is probably pruned and cared for); and it was partially surrounded by roads and sidewalks, instead of being in the woods. I kept walking and saw another ancient oak…and another. One of them I stood next to and felt its ancient presence, imagining the water running under its skin. Soon I came to a tree with a plaque on it, explaining that many old trees had been left standing when the land was cleared for the university, and that one which had blown down was measured to be about 350 years old. “Look around,” the plaque on the tree said, “many of the trees in this area are of about the same age.”
Let’s do the math for a second here. 2000 minus 350 would be 1650. This is the year 2021, so 350 years ago from today is 1671. These trees, then, living in the sprinkle of fall rain just like I am, were here before European colonists were here. My grandfather was born in 1902. How many generations back would I have to go to find the ancestor who was alive when this tree was a sapling?
This summer I visited Hartwick Pines, a stand of old-growth pine trees an hour north of Mount Pleasant. A logging museum there describes the clear-cutting of the forest that European colonists and settlers undertook in the mid-1800’s. That timber fueled the economic engine of its day, and the logging of that timber altered the state of Michigan (as we now call it) and the continent of North America. And here, in the middle of MSU campus, stand the ancient ones, trees that were 150 years old at that time—the time of the “catastrophic harvest,” as the logging museum phrased it.
In their solemnity and silence these trees beggar description and defy comparison. Let’s just say that they were here way before me and my people; and that a thing like the coronavirus pandemic is a blink of time in the perspective on these old ones.
Sprit of Mother Earth, Sprit of Forest and of trees, be with me now. May I be appropriately reverent in the presence and majesty of these ancient and powerful living things. May something of wisdom and of peace fall to me, like the rain falls from the sky and like the leaf falls from the tree.
May it be so.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
September 23, 2021