I captured this photo on a November hike, arrested by the hieroglyphic quality of the insect trail on the tree trunk. Perhaps this is the dead trunk of an ash tree, and the grooves were made by emerald ash borer larvae, deposited as eggs beneath the trunk and munching to maturity while slowly killing the tree. These little bastards have left thousands of dead trees in their wake across Michigan, just in the last few years.
In trying to put myself in the head of a bug that made these channels, it strikes me that they came into awareness in a dark location suitable for their growth, and started living their purpose, chewing blindly forward, ever forward, until something told them they were done and it was time to move on. They came and left with only the narrowest conception of the tree, their host, as just the flat earth they wandered while they lived. I can step back and take measure of the tree’s geometry from my perspective, the intricate three-dimensionality of it, the size and the volume of space it occupies. Then mentally subtract the tree, and what’s left is a delicate cylindrical negative of the bugs’ road. The destructive little bastards left us some art to attest to their one-dimensional grindage.
This weekend I went for a run in a nearby forest, a few times around a 2-mile loop in the snowy woods. Hills and tough footing made it slow going. After all that struggle and conversion of oxygen into forward motion, I finished right back where I started. But nothing was the same, including me. As an aside, an hour of solitude in the woods offers solutions to many things.
Time pushes us forward, usually not unidirectionally, instead on a tortuous path around, over, under, between and in spite of. Even Brownian motion must still be forward, driven by the arrow of time. We go backward in our memories while we move forward in time, forward on our path – whether it’s linear, forked, bifurcated, doubles or triples back on itself, we still have to move forward.
Blindly we make our path and trace our wild pattern in the dark substrate, unaware of so much, and never really appreciating the beauty and complexity of our winding course or the medium on which it’s traced. And we’ll never have the vantage to see revealed in full the path we trace – but might someone else?
Forward is time working upon us, us working within time. You’ll never read that last sentence again, for the first time. You’ll never have this exact now again. You’ve moved forward.