/Stories of the forest

Stories of the forest

By Jim Poling Sr.

There is no greater power on earth than stories. Stories help us to understand the world around us; understanding makes it easier to cope.
There is much to cope with this spring. The sickness, deaths and economic destruction brought by the unrelenting COVID-19 virus are overwhelming. Fires from mass cremations in India can be seen from airplanes flying high above the earth.

Thankfully, there are positive stories to help us cope.

A good place to hear them and see them is during a short walk in the woods. But go lightly and quietly. The spring woods are delicate because Mother Nature was pregnant and the signs of birthing are appearing.
One birthing is a stem with three delicate leaves pushing through the damp rubble left by winter. It is a trillium and it, and the thousands of others bringing new life to the forest, has an important story to tell.

There are five species of trillium found in Ontario, where it is the official flower and provincial symbol found on official documents such as driver’s licences and health cards. Most trillium flowers are white, but some are red-purple, depending on where you live.

Trillium root was used for centuries as an antiseptic, diuretic and as an aid to menstruation. North American native tribes used trillium root to facilitate child birth and other female issues. It was a sacred female herb spoken about only among female medicine women.

An important part of the trillium’s story is that you don’t have to be big to be important. It is a tiny plant compared to the colossal oaks, maples and beeches that tower overhead. Yet while the big trees continue to sleep it pushes through the thawing earth to announce renewal of life and hope for the future.

Also, trillium flowers produce fruit – small berries with seeds attached to a nutritious fleshy substance called elaiosome. Ants love the substance and carry it and the seeds off to their nests. They eat the elaiosome and discard the seeds, which germinate and produce more trilliums.

Again, small things doing important stuff.

The trillium’s story also is one of patience. Its seeds take two years to germinate and another seven to 10 years to produce the first early spring flower.

Not long after the trilliums begin to bloom something else small but miraculous arrives in the forest. It is the velvet hum of a hummingbird, carrying its amazing story of migration.

Hummingbirds travel thousands of kilometres a year between their summer homes in the northern U.S. and southern Canada and their winter homes as far south as Central America. They fly during daylight when they can see good places to stop for food.

They need a lot of food energy, much of it sugar, for those long trips. They feed five to eight times an hour, licking nectar with their long, forked tongues. Some research shows they lick 10 to 15 times per second.
Everything about hummingbirds seems to be fast. Their little wings flap 15 to 80 times a second and during migration their heart beats up to 1,200 times a minute. Even during rest, a hummingbird takes an average of 250 breaths per minute.
They really have no low energy speed but have so much maneuverability that they can even fly backwards.  

All that speedy maneuvering consumes huge amounts of energy. It has been estimated that a person weighing 77 kilograms would have to eat 60 kilos (130 pounds) of bread a day to keep up to the energy output of a hummingbird.

Part of the hummingbird’s story is a lie. For years people have spread the myth that ruby-throated hummingbirds ride on the backs of geese and other birds during their migrations across the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s a non-stop flight across the Gulf with no place land and rest so someone decided that these tiny birds could not possibly make such a long, arduous journey without hitching a ride.

The fact is that they do make the 800-kilometre flight entirely on their own.
Both the trillium and the hummingbird are positive stories that bring color and joy into our lives at the end of a winter of discontent.