The things she catches Doug-firs doing, over the course of these years, fill her with joy. When the lateral roots of two Douglas-firs run into each other underground, they fuse. Through those self-grafted knots, the two trees join their vascular systems together and become one. Networked together underground by countless thousands of miles of living fungal threads, her trees feed and heal each other, keep their young and sick alive, pool their resources and metabolites into community chests …. It will take years for the picture to emerge. There will be findings, unbelievable truths confirmed by a spreading worldwide web of researchers in Canada, Europe, Asia, all happily swapping through faster and better channels. Her trees are far more social than even Patricia suspected. There are no individuals. There aren’t even separate species. Everything in the forest is the forest. Competition is not separable from endless flavors of cooperation. Trees fight no more than do the leaves on a single tree. It seems most of nature isn’t red in tooth and claw, after all. For one, those species at the base of the living pyramid have neither teeth nor talons. But if trees share their storehouses, then every drop of red must float on a sea of green. The men want her to come back to Corvallis and teach.
“I’m not good enough. I don’t really know anything yet.”
“That doesn’t stop us!”
But Henry Fallows tells her to think about it. “Let’s talk when you’re ready”
The Research Station Manager, Dennis Ward, drops by with little gifts, when he’s on site. Wasps’ nests. Insect galls. Pretty stones polished by the creeks. Their standing arrangement reminds Patricia of the one she had withe pack rat she shared her BLM cabin with. Regular visits, lightning and shy, trading in worthless trinkets. Then days of hiding. And just as Patricia once warmed to her resident pack rat, so she grows fond of this gentle, slow-moving man.
Dennis brings her dinner one night. It’s an act of pure foraging. Mushroom-hazel casserole, with bread he has baked in a cloche laid in a brush burn. Tonight’s conversation is not inspired. It rarely is, and she’s grateful enough for that.
“How’re the trees?” he asks, as he always does. She tell him what she can, minus the biochemistry.
“Walk?” he asks, when they finish rinsing the dishes into a graywater catch. A favourite question, to which she always answers, “Walk!”
He must be ten years older. She knows nothing about him and doesn’t ask. They talk only of work – her slow research into the roots of Douglas-firs, his impossible job of corralling scientists and getting them to abide by the minimal rules. She herself is well into autumn. Forty-six – older than her father was, when he died. All her flowers have long since faded. But here’s the bee.