Among our favorite books, are novels that we can open randomly to find passages that that are complete unto themselves, acting like a poem or standalone piece of writing. Lately, we’ve turned to Richard Powers’ Pullitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory for that kind of random illumination. It weaves together the remarkable stories of its characters who are all joined in a singular passion: trees, which are the true heroes of the book.
Here, a forest ranger wends her way through an old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. Viewing the huge, ancient trees, she is suddenly overtaken with gratitude. She finds herself naming the many gifts she realizes they have given, stating her thanks very specifically, “letting her gratitude spill out”:
She addresses the cedar, using words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next.
‘Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Than you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.
Each new item is release and relief. Finding no good reason to quit now, she lets the gratitude spill out. ‘Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The clothes closets. The paneling. I forget… Thank you,’ she says, following the ancient formula. ‘For all these gifts that you have given.” And still not knowing how to stop, she ads, ‘We’re sorry. WE didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.'”
We love her spontaneous expression of gratitude, the naming of each item that follows “the ancient formula”.
And we we love being reminded of the ways trees are present in the most mundane aspects of our daily life.