Reading The Tree Rings This Election Day

Nov 6, 2018

Do you know about dendrochronology, the science of tree-ring dating? Counting tree rings reveals not just a tree’s age, but also the conditions under which it lived. A tree’s cross section shows prosperous years, where it put on much good wood, and drought years, where it just hunkered down. It also reveals the years of fire. 


At a recent lecture on the subject, my mind wandered, as it sometimes does. What would a dendrochronologist learn about me, if she could exercise her science on my bones? She would need to find me lying in the forest, because these scientists prefer their specimens dead, yet intact. But let’s just suppose. What would my cross-section disclose? 


Those years of love and companionship would show themselves in blessed, expansive rings, while the lonesome years would expose tight, constricted circles. What details would my heartwood reveal if the scientist really drilled in? Could she locate the time I finally got the yellow ten speed I had longed for? Or when I fell from the willow breaking several bones.  


The fires of my life, she’ll find, cut across the grain in deep scars.  


Years pile onto years. It’s comforting to think that some events—which seem central at the time—will leave no signature at all. Good luck, future dendrochronologist—reading the off-year election of 2018 in my woodgrain. 


As the lecture concluded, I applauded, having learned so much. When the lights came on, I was glad that no one could peer inside me, to read my secret thoughts.    


I’m Chris Fink and that’s my perspective.