Reading a book this week about Mother trees, I felt a need to find a picture of the author. I do that a lot. It is part of my relationship with the storyteller.

Sometimes I dig a little deeper into her background. Mostly I learn of her life from the story she tells, but my mind always wants to see her face.

We humans need to see each others’ faces, thus the importance in various cultures to hide that which we wish to establish authority. Masks hide our identities, or just let us pretend we are something we would like to be.

A book is a conversation with its author, a sharing of imagination. Even in a non-fiction, we are relating the memories we hold, or sharing the fruits of the author’s research and experience of other people’s memories, and a winnowing of what the author found important.

I will be glad to see the Covid masks go away. I want to see the faces of people I meet in my daily travels, to read their books. What a diverse panoply of colors and shapes we are.

Walking in the forest is like that, with the exception that if we see an interesting shape, trees don’t mind us stopping to stare. So many colors and species, each with its own story to tell, its own cast to the story begging to be read along the path.

The forest is one of the least boring places on our planet. There are birch trees that grow best in wet areas, and oaks I spy on higher, better drained ground. Blackberries love recent cut over places where only small birds can get to the fruit.

Notice, if you will, patches of yellow flowers along the two-track pathway, best suited to small vehicles with lots of ground clearance; those flowers are not at all common on the foot-trails one travels after parking the vehicle.

The many faces of the forest – faces a younger me often passed by, thought briefly, “My, ain’t that pretty,” then proceeded along my often undirected path, between any two trees with space wider than those in another direction. Some of the trails I have wandered are only in my imagination; I mark where the sun is heading west to keep myself, and the parked Outback positioned on my mental map.

The trees and I trade stories of urban kids whose only entertainment is on electronic screens, who have never met a live oak or watched a spider climb over a puffball mushroom. The faces of nearby forests are covered with masks of yellow and orange, black lettering declaring the authority of often invisible owners.

Kids who are not permitted to walk among the butterflies will not understand the importance of those with which their lives are so deeply entwined. They will not grasp that the butterflies provide not only entertainment, but transport the pollen that makes other plants possible and provide food for the birds that transport seeds that become flowers that slake the thirst of butterflies.

Some of those youngsters will experience urban gardens, important as training aids but not like being in the real forest, which itself is like wandering among the many shades of people and cultures that populate our planet. We need to see the faces that engender our stories.

Diversity is not only about brown exteriors. Monoculture is boring, and rarely efficient. Trees, unregulated by human machines, do not grow in straight lines. And it takes all those faces to make a book.

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