What trees have to teach us — a lot

FOREST SERVICE … I spent much of my time in public office as a commissioner working with the federal public-land agencies. That’s because over 60 percent of the land base in San Miguel County is non-taxable public land, managed by the feds … When I left office, I was delighted when GMUG Forest Supervisor Scott Armentrout gifted me with a hardback copy of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World (Greystone Books, 2015). I think long-time GMUG staffer Corey Wong may have recommended the book. And I was stunned … There was a time when I thought all federal land managers cared more about timber-harvest quotas than the health of the forest. But I was wrong. As I learned over the years, that was our mama and papa’s Forest Service. Today’s agency folks care deeply about the forest. And the trees. As does Wohlleben, who kicks off his intro this way: “When I began my professional career as a forester, I knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals” … Of course, through long study of the mushroom kindom [sic], I’ve come to understand how fungi in soil help trees communicate, and lots of other secrets buried in arboreal cambrium. Wohlleben explains how trees talk through pheromones and sound waves, protect themselves with tannins, bloom together on mysterious cue to maximize gene-mixing. We learn of tree etiquette, tree “schools,” and tree specialists who thrive in the most extreme of climates. Did you have any idea, as Wohllebein writes: “There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet” or that “the older the tree, the more quickly it grows” or that “For every square yard of forest, 27 square yards of leaves and needles blanket the crowns”? … This is a book of surprises, startling insights, and counter-intuitive wisdom. I’m saving it for a second read in a year or two. There was just too much to absorb and reflect on in one sitting … And I’m thanking our lucky stars to have foresters like Wohllebin, Armentrout and Wong in our midst. Highly recommended.

URSULA LEGUIN … You may have heard that this Portland novelist died in January of this year. But you may not have known that the mother of this celebrated American sci-fi master, poet and essayist was Theodora Kroeber née Kracaw … Theodora was well known as the wife of the famous cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber of the University of California-Berkeley. She was also the author of the classic California story, Ishi In Two Worlds … But even more importantly for locals, the Kracaws moved from Denver to Telluride and ran a grocery store in the town of Saw Pit about a hundred years ago. Back in 2002 [C.E.] I interviewed Telluride oldtimer Alta Cassietto at her Montrose home for my Mining the Gold history column, and she told me that “Irene Wichman” – whose family ran the Wichman Brewing & Mfg. Co. in Telluride until 1939 [C.E.] – graduated from the same Telluride High School class as Theodora did. And that the Kracaws also ran a mortuary in Telluride … Theodora went on to write one of the best accounts I’ve read of life in Telluride in the early 1900s [C.E.] Her account of the constant reverberations from the ball mills operating in the valley and the egalitarian friendships of folks of differing ages still stick in my mind. It can be found as a chapter in her fine biography of her second husband, Alfred Kroeber: A Personal Configuration (Univ. of Calif. Press,1970 [C.E.]).

ORIGINAL THINKERS 2018 … I’m no stranger to the magic of a Telluride festival weekend. Since my first Telluride Film Festival in 1976 [C.E.], and stretching over 40-odd years, Telluride’s festivals have provided an almost endless stream of unforgettable memories. But two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take part in an extraordinary new festival experience, Original Thinkers 2018 … I am still processing the images and ideas this threeday weekend event threw at me. It isn’t too early to sum it up like this: the best Telluride Festival ever, the most thoughtful and thought-provoking! I’m not kidding. The weekend was structured around ten major programs in the large Mountain Village conference center. I can count the multiple turns of this kaleidoscopic festival on my ten fingers … Presence as answer and antidote to polarization … A gritty and witty exploration of wealth as an ultimate addiction, our addiction … In-depth and very atypical portraits of the deep South, from slavery to today, by two equally atypical women photographer- artists … A harrowing exposé of the way glyphosate is redrawing the cancer map of our country … An intimate look at some extreme, and extremely different, cases of overcoming overwhelming odds … An epic story of a group of veterans trying to use the healing power of poetry, art, and collective solidarity to deal with PTSD … Behind-the-scenes looks at efforts to reveal and reverse the modern world’s war on women, narrated by courageous women journalists … The surprising tale of horizontal gene transfer between species that is reshaping the story of evolution on earth … Gripping and occasionally humorous stories about the bravery and risks of truth-telling, from Sudan to Nashville … And in closing, a festival wrap-up program that left us all stunned, and flying high, energized by a series of passionate speakers, calls to get it right, not to look away, and to celebrate all we can celebrate, from the 50th anniversary of a vision of earth from space that should have changed everything but hasn’t yet, to a breathtaking dance performance by burn victim and amputee Prince Amponsah, who personifies the notion not just of overcoming odds but transcending them gloriously … Original thinkers, and their original thinking, are ultimately a call for original action. A call we all felt, and with luck can keep on responding to … Finally, I need to mention, and thank, one more original thinker, David Holbrooke, who dreamed up this festival and brought it to life, who was somehow able to morph the lessons of his ten years at the helm of Mountainfilm into something even more ambitious, even more challenging, even more exciting. This year’s Original Thinkers festival is just the beginning of one more open-ended Telluride adventure. Stay tuned, and reserve the first weekend of October 2019 for the next chapter of this amazing story.

TONY HOAGLAND … This marvelous Houston-based poet exercised a wry imagination that veered like a swing over troubled waters, alternating from heartfelt to humorous. He passed on this past week. A short excerpt for our poem this month

Art Goodtimes writes from San Miguel County, Colo.


from the poem “America”

…But how could [my father] have
100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of
bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your
pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning
underneath you. And you see their faces
twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

In “What Narcissism Means to Me”
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota

From Art Goodtimes.