richmond birdwing butterfly

23 years ago, we are at the edge of the Kuranda Rainforest track. Outside, there is only glare and heat and damp. The morning sun bites hard and hot. The bitumen is sticky with heat. The air is so wet that I breathe heavy from the short walk from home. And the blazing song of a million million cicadas buzz, throb, and pulse around us.

Kirra and me, we carefully ease past a cascading curtain of wait-a-while, and we enter the forest.

We enter the cool and dark and quiet.

We enter the stillness of the forest.

I pause to breathe a few breaths and to be present, here.

Kirra wriggles off my hip and runs ahead.

In the heart of this forest there’s a spot where the Kuranda creek murmurs around a large flat rock, 15 steps across: 25 steps for Kirra. There are flay dry patches of rock and little pools, rivulets, and a deep crevasse where an eel may – or may not – live.

Kirra is playing in the creek, perched on the rock, writing on the water with her stick and counting taddies.

I lie on the cool cool stone to look up at the forest giants.

The giant trees, columns and canopy shade us completely: just a few slender rays of sunlight are made visible where they illuminate a leaf, a twig, or tiny floating particles of dust.

And rising between the columns, a cloud of Richmond birdwing butterflies, green stained glass, catch and reflect that sunlight as they circle and eddy slowly in a gentle updraft.

Photo of a male richmond birdwing butterfly resting on a stick, wings open.
Bob Decker. 2012. Richmond Birdwing Butterfly. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

We the forest

We are walking in the forest. It is cold and softly raining, but we are well dressed for the weather and the dense canopy above reduces that gentle rain to a fine mist. I am feeling happy and carefree, I want to skip and jump. You seem contemplative, quiet. After a few minutes we settle together into a calm and companionable silence.

The path ahead diverts around the buttress roots of one ancient tree. We stop at this giant, and I step over the buttress and lean in, pressing my palms against the damp bark. The bark is rough to touch. Close up I can see the rain seeping down the channels in the rough bark, to be delivered gently to the soil and the roots below. Standing here, I imagine those roots reaching down and down into the earth. The roots hold the tree to the earth, and in the process hold the soil to the hillside. The roots of this tree and the forest around it support the tree, support the earth, support you and me.

Deep underground, the roots of this tree also take nutrients from the soil. These nutrients are pulled upwards. They are pulled to the very top of the tree by the evaporation of water from the leaves. The tree is selecting elements from the soil and using them to build more tree. But the roots of this tree are also communicating with other trees nearby, sharing nutrients and chemical messages in a two-way collaborative network. This tree and the trees nearby are not just building themselves. They are building the forest. My palms are on the tree, touching the rough bark. But my mind is down with the roots and wonders whether ‘tree’ is just a human construct and there is only forest.

I turn my face to you. You are leaning backwards on the part of the forest we call ‘this tree.’ Your eyes are closed and you are smiling a gentle smile. Your warm breath makes a little mist as the moisture condenses in the cold air.

You and I, we are both breathing. We breathe in. We smell the damp and the earth and the forest. To me, the air smells green. To you, the air smells clean. We breathe in the air and take the oxygen that the forest has released in the process of photosynthesis. We breathe out.  The forest breathes our breath and in the process of photosynthesis it takes the carbon and creates more of itself. Some of this carbon is shared from tree to tree via the roots. The carbon that started in our bodies will nurture the entire forest.

We breathe the forest. The forest breathes we.

My palms are on the tree, I am breathing in my body but my mind is far above and below with the exchange of carbon and oxygen and I wonder whether ‘you’ and ‘I’ are just human constructs and there is only forest.

There is only forest.

We, the forest.

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