All of my blog posts have had photos I have taken and up until now, thoughts I have thought, words I have written… until today. Today I feature a writer who eloquently articulates what has been in my mind. I am a fan of the magazine Kinfolk and that is where I first saw this piece. Thank you Nikaela for giving life to some of my thoughts.
Words by Nikaela Marie Peters
I look forward to aging. I look forward to watching the people around me age. I don’t mean this maliciously—I don’t look forward to losing the people I love or watching them ache or slow down or get sick. I think I want to watch the people I’m close to grow old partly because I wish I knew them all as kids. I want to watch their grips on the world loosen, their souls knock around inside their all- at-once ill-fitting bodies. It seems to me that youth and old age might mirror one another in this way.
How romantic old age seems from my youthful vantage point! Of course I’m only imagining and don’t actually know what it feels like. I imagine the man I love marked with age spots and skin folds that only I, in our intimacy, have traced. I imagine forgetting what he remembers and remembering what he’s forgotten. I imagine being forgiven for all sorts of forgetfulness. I imagine our bodies remembering what our brains forget—the years we carried our babies on our backs, the summer we cycled across the province, the ceilings we painted, the sunburns we got, the ankles we sprained, the time we spent sitting, the time we spent laughing.
With humans it is like this: our histories recorded in wrinkles and joints and muscles and marrow. With trees, there’s also an inscribed physical history in bark and grain and burls and knots that differs from tree to tree. When it comes to trees, this chronicling of time is mostly bound up in what biologists call secondary growth. Secondary growth describes the growth in the girth or diameter of a tree (as distinguished from its height, which is known as primary growth). The rings that mark a tree’s age are formed by the tree’s relationship with each different season. In springs and summers, the wood grows faster and is softer; in winters, it grows slower and is denser. The tree marks the year with stripes of light and dark. They record it all: The rings tell of long summers and wet winters, of early springs and cold summers. Secondary growth can swallow a fence post or hydro line, literally assuming its surroundings into itself. The seasons repeat, the climate changes, the trees take note.
We think too much about age in terms of primary growth: a linear trajectory from birth to death, graduation to retirement. We think of it in terms of increasing figures: height, weight, bank account, pension, age. Secondary growth is more subtle and impossible to measure. It’s a swelling of thoughts, a slowing of limbs. And it’s not only sentimental and internal. In a way, our bodies themselves measure and archive the seasons of our lives: toboggan accidents, burns from a hot stove, summer baseball bruises, each injury adding to awareness. We grow more and more alive—not less and less. And there’s an impulse to collect and document and record it all. We are nostalgic creatures. But we can relax: Built into the natural world is a system that, in a way, records time and growth better than our cameras and notebooks.