Dance of the Birch Trees

A walk in the dancing forest this morning reminded me of another windstorm, this one in December of 1874 and made famous by John Muir.

While others ran for shelter, Muir “lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy” the storm. Picking a sturdy-looking tree, he climbed as high as he could into the swaying wind, clinging to the trunk as the tree itself “fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobo-link on a reed.”

There is much to learn, as Muir discovered, in such a storm – about the forest and ourselves. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” he wrote, “but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense.

They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings — many of them not so much.” It is a good day for a walk in the woods and the pondering of the lessons of the storm.


Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.

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