Trees are the nerve endings of the earth, sensing the sky, and they are the nerve endings of the sky, sensing the earth. In full leaf they are also the two-way circulation system, bringing water and energy from the earth to the air and from the air to the earth. Trees, strictly, are not dendritic; dendritic means ‘branching like a tree’ – nerves, blood vessels, watersheds viewed in reverse, suburban subdivision streets, the consciousness of an incessant rabbit-holing researcher, the deflections and equivocations of many a tender critic, the process of publishing and distributing copies of written works to many people in many places.

To those for whom water is not wet (something is wet if it has water on it and can be dried off; water just is water), trees are not dendritic – although you could argue back that every tree is like a tree, any other tree. And like, not identical. Never mind snowflakes, which are built on a tidy hexagonal crystalline structure; no two trees are alike. But, yes, trees covered in snow are doubly unalike.

I am tempted to say that snow on a tree branch is dendruff. But I should say that dandruff is of uncertain and difficult and probably Germanic origin (I mean the word, not the thing, although…), while dendritic and dendrite and dendron (and thus rhododendron and philodendron and so on) come from Greek δένδρον dendron ‘tree’ and δενδρίτης dendrités ‘of or pertaining to a tree’.

People are dendritic too, in our little motile ways. We have limbs, after all, and at the ends of those limbs are smaller branchings, toes and fingers, feeling their way through the earth and air. The fingertips are fed by arterioles and capillaries and the world is sensed through the nerves, the almost infinitely many little ends of the line yearning for contact, taking any wave that comes to them.

I have sat in a library where at a nearby table people were whispering, and I have held my hand in the air, fingertips forward, to feel the waves of susurrant sibilance washing over. And then have turned them back to the books and the words, themselves the end of a dendritic process of publishing and distribution, and the end of several trees, too.

3 responses to “dendritic

  1. The piece is an absolute beauty. Lyrical, seer-like and full of linguistic wizardry as usual.

  2. Why Do Trees Look Like my Hands by Lynn Harrison.

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