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I Ask Questions To the Ash Tree Ghosts

By Colleen McCullough


I am thinking back to watching that mole this morning and how when I observe nature - especially living organisms/fauna I come up against dichotomous theories of interconnectedness. First, is that of altruism or selflessness and second, is egoism and selfishness. I’ve been pushing myself to find balances between the two - or to discard both altogether. I share the desire I witness in many people to narrativize, characterize, moralize the life, death, and actions I observe animals doing. How can the question “Why?” be asked outside this framework? I think that the answer to this may go something like this: animals are selfless, hardworking, and sacrificial when one thinks so and aren’t when one doesn’t think so. There is perfect symbiosis between life and death when one appreciates it and not when one doesn’t. There is meaning in what we see when we make meaning from what we see. The natural world is observable to whatever extent we observe it. The mole aerates the soil so it is fertile if we say it does. The mole does this knowing it will help grow its food if we say so. What is happening around us is most definitely dependent on what we notice and say is happening. The thresholds of life and death are continuing to thin for me and I’m trying not to romanticize this thinning veil too much. There is no life versus death; it is a spectrum that is folded back onto itself. This tree, collapsed from snow in the winter with a few roots in the ground has made it to Spring. Dead? Alive? Partially both? These categories demand time to function properly. Should life and death be measured in time? (They often are). But as these categories blend, how can time be used to measure something that is losing its concreteness and thus it’s measurability? What death is measurable? Is mournable? I think about this forest being logged and stripped and my stomach drops. Is that True Death? Or is that just part of the fuzzy life/death/life cycle that I am seeing around me right now? Life nor death need be savory to my eyes. What makes human impact and destruction to the earth so much more heinous than all the other natural disturbances that occur? Just because we have feelings about it doesn’t mean that it is. What happens when a part in the life/death/life cycle malfunctions? Is that possible? Can anything apart from humans “malfunction” like it feels like we are in our endeavor to cause so much harm? I just have less trust in our ability to understand what’s going on, and a greater reverence for the uncategorizableness of the way things are and do and change.

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Illustrations by Bri Fischella

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