from an Acorn
my fiftieth birthday approached, I was powerless over the urge
to take stock of myself and plan for the next fifty years, and
what better place to adjourn to, I thought, than the oldest mountains
in the world. Maybe they would share some of their insights and
survival techniques implicit in their longevity. Maybe they would
even remember me from my many summers at camp on Lookout Mountain
and forgive my California license plates.
Smokies are not exactly like they were 250 million years ago,
at 22,000 feet to 6,000 now, but they still present the welcoming,
lush, diverse landscape that captivated me forty years ago and
that has drawn to its comfort over the years a vibrant and unique
I have rented a cabin, in Western North Carolina, I am at 4,000
feet, up a steep gravel road with no neighbors anywhere in sight,
and from my porch I have a long view to the mountains in the distance
that accommodate the Blue Ridge Parkway on that part of its route
between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - by far the most
visited of our national parks - and Asheville. It is fair to predict
- without taking away anything whatsoever from those who built
it - that the parkway will not come close to matching the lifespan
of these mountains and will instead ultimately share the fate,
though surely not the reputation, of Shelleys Ozymandias.
the area, there is everything from bourbon to bluegrass to Baptists
to clogging to rafting and everything in between. But mostly there
are trees. Millions of trees.
a local Wilderness Day seminar, I learned that the extraordinary
age of the Smoky Mountains has also yielded a concomitant diversity
of plant life. There are 120 separate species of trees in Western
North Carolina, for example, compared to just 80 on the entire
continent of Europe.
have walked and walked my seven wooded acres during my few months
here and have found that the trees will speak to you if you will
just listen respectfully. They have plenty of time, but not for
wasting. And they thrive by a practice of community nurturing
that nonetheless respects independence.
came to this knowledge, this fiftieth birthday present really,
sitting alone against the broad trunk of an oak tree near a creek
that courses through my property. And as I observed my surroundings,
I heard this story:
against the exposed root of a nearby tree, which had both initiated
and halted its unexpected and sudden descent, the acorn - time
on its side - waits and while waiting takes the measure of its
arrival: the treacherous fall, the unforgiving earth, the carom
and tumble after impact, the predators at large. How could Nature
be trusted, it wondered. And from its new perch it witnessed similar
befallen fates for one after another kindred seeds.
yet in accordance with the codes carried deep within its protective
mantle, it began carrying out the commands of its mission - one
day reaching out through its casing to explore the soil below,
even taking nutrient from it, then rooting, then metamorphosing,
discarding its spent shell, and reaching up, up, up - time on
its side - as it retraced an old journey and made the marvel of
time, it forgave hastily judged Nature as it recalled the vigilant
safeguards - at work but unnoticed - that had always watched over
it: the shell that absorbed the impact of the Fall, the nutrients
that lay below waiting to sustain it, the rain, the sun, the seasons,
and on and on. In particular it recalled the exposed root that
halted its roll and put it in its place.
when the time came to loose its own acorns, it passed on the coded
messages and commands, as required by the Maker, and left its
progeny to their new independence and uncertain fate, but with
a knowledge that all would fulfill some purpose, whether as food
for winged or four-legged creatures, or compost for the soil that
allows rooting, or as the next generation of Oak, in which case
an added measure of silent pride could be forgiven regarding those
in particular that found their first safe harbor nestled against
the numerous and versatile roots of its own that it now beheld.
Buckley, a native southerner, graduated from Dartmouth in
1976 and from William and Mary Law School in 1979. After practicing
law and teaching first grade, he now spends his time writing.
He has a poem in the online journal Chantarelles Notebook.