Pando and the Ripple Effect

The heaviest known single living organism on Planet Earth is known as Pando.  Spread out over 106 acres in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah, it is a colony of quaking aspen trees.  Above the ground, each tree appears to be separate and distinct.  But Pando’s truly unique feature lies beneath the forest floor.  There, a gnarled labyrinth of intertwining fibers connects aspen to aspen. In fact, Pando is one tree, linked together by an enormous and continuous 80,000-year-old root system.  Even though modern-day humans have been roaming this big, blue marble for a whopping 200,000 years, the considerable age gap between the two species has never stopped me from comparing them.  For I see people as inextricably tethered together by unseen “roots.” From birth, we are hitched to family, friends, and the culture to which we have been assigned. The invisible network of tangled, ever-reaching roots that twists and turns between us is woven from curiosity, purpose, wishes and dreams (and sometimes nightmares); it leads us to the people we need and the people who need us.  Over a lifetime, we are carried from occasion to encounter, from event to adventure, new place to novel experience, via the ties that bind.

When a tree’s soil contains enough clean water and proper nutrients, its underground system transports healthy sustenance to its trunk and leaves.  However, if poison is leached from the soil through these same roots, the organism can be damaged or even die. Similarly, humans thrive on nutritious “food,” but they suffer when toxins enter the system.  Good “food” for people includes clean water, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, but we really prosper when we also have sufficient clothing, personal hygiene items, shelter, belongings, and love.  Human beings can easily deteriorate when they find themselves without these basic needs.  They can also come to harm through direct poisoning via adulterated food (including that which has been treated with pesticides), contaminated water and air, illicit (and some prescription) drugs, excessive alcohol, or physical/emotional trauma.  Additionally, a constant bombardment of negativity (both from the inside and from the outside) can corrode a person’s mind, body and spirit.  Since we all have so many needs to be met and piles of pitfalls to avoid, it is crucial that humans treat each other with as much dignity and respect as possible; how we interact truly does has a profound effect upon the entire species.  When we choose to do something rude or cruel to another, it can leave deep wounds. In contrast, when we choose to comfort, encourage, or provide for another, that support has the ability to aid in growth and healing (often our own!). Essentially, our life-shaping experiences and communications with others either make us feel well or unwell, positive (i.e.: content, grateful, hopeful, joyful) or negative (i.e.: envious, lacking, angry, afraid).  When we share positive energy with others, the massive invisible root system that links us continues to spread that feel-good vibe far and wide, creating more healthy interactions… but when we put forth negative energy, a domino effect of unhealthy interactions is the predictable result.

Like so many of Mother Earth’s inhabitants, Pando appears to be dying.  Not every reason for the tree’s ailing health has been identified, but human activity is a known factor.  Grazing cattle have been eating Pando’s saplings at such a fast rate that the organism can no longer regenerate normally.  Man’s insatiable appetite for hunting apex predators has also caused an overabundance of mule deer which snack on the tree’s tasty saplings.  For 30-40 years now, gaps have been forming in the grove where new growth once automatically filled. Sadly, experts agree that, if Pando is going to survive, it will have to do so as a whole.  I believe the same is true of the human race. Ever-increasing sick segments are creating a constant drain on our linked organism.  The acceptance of greed as a normal, even celebrated attribute, is highly to blame for the cancer that could end up destroying us.  Our human chain cannot remain healthy when relatively few hold the majority of the power and wealth and so many others are now considered disposable.  It is high time that the common people find a way to nourish and protect our roots.  While not everyone is suited to bring about meaningful changes in governmental policies, most of us have the ability to make life just a little easier for the least among us.  Our own communities are the perfect places to begin. Providing a caring ear, a warm hug, some hot, homemade soup or an ice-cold water takes so very little effort, but can mean a great deal to someone in need.   Streets of Paradise has been an effective vehicle for transferring decency, nourishment, and optimism from those who have a surplus to those who can sorely use the extra encouragement and hope. SOP’s consistent dedication to providing for the homeless and recently re-homed has been reverberating throughout our communities, strengthening us and creating an everlasting ripple of good will.  

In the coming months, volunteers will no doubt be presented with untold opportunities to share Streets of Paradise stories.  My personal approach will be to begin with people and/or events and follow the roots to where they lead, creating narratives that illustrate our connectedness and our collective power to change things for the better.  I intend to relay chosen tales in an open and honest manner, though. For, while we are often joined together through love and compassion, some relationships are based upon abuse, trauma, and other negative experiences.  Too much of the latter can cause damage that feels irreparable. This despairing state is likely to be the starting point of many an article. But my hope is to clearly demonstrate how a little grace, shared from open hearts, can lead ordinary people to send forth the magic ripple we so desperately need.                     

Story ideas and submissions are welcome and appreciated.  To be considered for publication on the Streets of Paradise blog, articles must include releases from both writer and identified subject(s).  Additionally, board approval is mandatory and may be contingent upon compliance with requested edits. Not all entries are guaranteed to be posted.     

Comments (14)

  • This is an Amazing Story. The writer is highly skilled, extremely knowledgeable, and very grammatically correct. Would love to read more from her…

  • Phenomenal analogy in a beautifully written piece of prose! Truth incarnate. Thank you, Devon, for this food for thought and food for the soul!

  • This was incredibly insightful. I mean spoken obvious truths in an eloquent reflective way that people need the necessities in life to survive, but also so much more on an emotional level. I had not even heard of this mega tree structure before reading this article

  • If it wasn’t Devon Oppenheimer I wouldn’t have known a lot about giving to my community.. Street of Paradise are doing a better job and keep it up guys with the good work. May God bless u always

  • I have a question. Does the story need to include services from SOP? I have contacts in other service agencies that might be able to contribute stories.

    On a separate note: I have thought that the Sarasota Herald Tribune should do a series of stories in the fashion of other investigative stories they have done… about illness leading to poverty and, ultimately, to homelessness, unsafe living conditions, or the threat of homelessness. Thoughts?

  • What a wonderful write-up with a lot of feelings and insights. It touched my heart and I couldn’t control my tears. I am proud of you my sweetest daughter.

  • Thanks , I’ve just been searching for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I have discovered so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?

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