Here in the dark depths of the Earth’s finest loam
death and decay are king,
and all kinds of wrigglers roam.
But here too birth and rebirth spring forth;
a tiny whirring, stirring in a miniscule seed;
as the first soft tendrils of life reach for the sun,
soils nutrients bathe this delicate, new, young one.
“We need each other” whisper
the fungi that swap sugar for ions;
for aeons they’ve hugged plant roots;
mycelium webs weave through soils, humus and shoots.
Then mycorrhizal bacteria fix nitrogen
and shake hands with plants.
An exchange of energy -a deal has been struck.
“All this symbiotic magic down in this muck?” you say…
Yes, without soil life there would be no life.
Yes, down here with the death and decay
life fades away and begins and fades away;
an intricate cycle in infinite display.
In this alive darkness tubers and roots sleep and slowly
I wonder if they dream of becoming winter soup?
As they collect sugars and earthy flavours
in that wonderful, mucky, brown, gloop.
Carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and beets
have front row seats to wave goodbye
to the seedling as he pushes on through
to see the sky.
Our little friend finally finds the light
up among the ground cover layer.
That blanket of clover and sorrel and strawberry fields
forever hugging close to the soil,
and locking in moisture, preventing erosion,
silently protecting Earth’s inner commotion.
Struggling a little then breaking free of these dense tangles,
the seedling discovers the herbaceous layer and
unravels soft green leaves to the sun in prayer.
Here tea and medicine and salad greens dwell,
flowers are kissed by bees and vie for the dappled glow,
for the sweet bright moments during which they can grow,
hug Earth and protect the precious soil below;
lock in moisture and tug nutrients up, up and up.
Precious shelter is here for those too small to defend
their tiny bodies from predators nigh,
stalking and searching in bush, lake or sky
so tread lightly here with a basket perhaps;
many gifts are offered so don’t forget to give back
As tall as the sturdy shrubs the young seedling grows,
where tiny birds flit and flicker
and gorge themselves on berries when the season is right.
Shrubs are rounded fellows that protect and feed
not just birds, but insects, and crawlers, squirrels and bees.
Hawthorn, hibiscus, holly and honeysuckle,
Butterfly bush, blueberry, blackberry, huckleberry;
all visitors are invited to linger.
But beware of those fellows who’d rather you didn’t touch
their fruits and flowers, and might reward you
instead with a sting from a prickly finger.
Now, the seedling is no longer what he once was,
no, not a seedling any longer but a young tree; trim and sleek.
Now other conversations might be had;
there are new friends to seek here in the understory.
There is talk of leaves, and bark and growing big and tall,
and creating flowers and fruits, some big and some small.
Talk of apples, and peaches, and plums, and pears,
and for the first time becoming home for someone else:
a pair of tree swallows find a tiny hollow for a nest
and wake the young tree every morning with their chatter
but no matter, what fun it is to watch the time pass
as the swallows feed and frolic among the leaves,
and humans pluck the first fruits off the tree.
And another first, the tree now begins to understand
that it is a part of the tapestry of this diverse land.
That it is a part of this forest, this food forest no less;
this bright and alive being that sustains and cycles.
Several years and many a growth ring later,
the tree has seen its comrades grow small
or was it simply that it grew tall?
And became an elder of the forest?
One of those grand, wide pillars that supports the great green
these gentle giants that sway slowly in the evening breeze,
and tease water up their long wooden trunks.
As elders they share their vast wealth,
they buffer cold winds and shelter the saplings;
their branches creak and groan and sing;
they grow fruits and nuts and send seeds into the air;
and with this air, they create the rain…
Yes, enough trees can CREATE the rain
and purify the air again and again.
And as tree seeds settle down onto the Earth,
she waits with open arms in thanks
for all the treasures one cannot find in banks,
but in roots, and shoots and decaying leaves,
and bacteria and fungi and epiphyte ferns…
How beautiful the heart of the food forest beats.