Thursday, June 6, 2024

Masting Year


            We are experiencing a masting year with our maple trees. This is what they call it when a population of trees decides to release a huge number of fruits, nuts, or seeds. (The word derives from an Old High German word for food.) This happens every few years, and nobody is sure how or why the trees decide to do this or, remarkably, how trees over a large swath of the country coordinate their behavior to do it at the same time. Whatever the trigger, or however they communicate, masting serves them well. During a normal year, most of the seeds that are dropped are eaten by squirrels, birds, mice and other critters, with few making it into the soil to grow into new trees. (With oak trees this happens with acorns.) In a masting year, so many seeds hit the ground that it becomes likely there will be plenty that will become trees. Pretty clever of them, in my opinion. (There is much more to say about masting years – so look it up.)


            So, here on our property we had thousands of those little helicopter maple seeds swirling down onto our woods and gardens, which soon became thousands of tiny maple trees peeking up out of the earth. Kim and I had to take the place of the squirrels. The tree starts are only an inch or so tall, at this point, and they are relatively easy to pull out. But there are so damn many of them! I usually get down on my knees to pull them out. Kim, with her bad knees, bends over to grab them, which is not good for her back. But we persist. We try to limit our efforts to an hour or two a day, but it’s often more. We resist using chemicals because the chemicals are bad for the environment, which includes our well water, and because the maple starts are usually right next to the violets and other flowers that we love. Kim has pointed out that for me, maple-pulling has a kind of meditative quality. Apparently, I like repetition.


            All of this makes me wonder what it would be like if I were to have a masting year. No, I won’t be distributing seeds any more, but could it be a metaphor for some sort of large productive enterprise? Perhaps, but what’s really interesting to me is not the fact that a tree, every few years, puts out a large number of seeds. No, what’s most fascinating is that a maple tree in Michigan can coordinate its masting with trees in Massachusetts. Are they all responding to the same stimulus, perhaps in the weather, or are they communicating through channels that we have not yet detected? Have trees come up with their own version of the internet?


            I look for evidence of human masting. At a cynical level, I look at the way political misinformation gets spread, almost instantly. But in a more benign way, I experienced a mast year last weekend. My college class celebrated our 60th reunion, and though I didn’t attend, I felt connected to it. Yes, I know, this may be a product of email and our class listserv, where I could read messages back and forth from classmates. But it was more than that, I think (and feel). I was sharing. I’m part of this because a number of classmates read my blog, but it goes deeper than a sharing of information and updates. I suspect that one of the consequences of class reunions is the dropping of seeds and nuts into the college’s Alumni Fund, but I got a real kick out of knowing and feeling that classmates all over the country and perhaps over much of the world were moved and participating.


            Wouldn’t it be nice if we could generate some sort of masting to preserve our planet? Instead of dropping seeds and nuts, how about clean energy, clean water, and native plants? Can you feel it? I can feel the potential when I see those little maple seeds helicoptering by. 

1 comment:

  1. Touching and thoughtful as is often the case. I can feel the masting, too.