Roots of the Witness Tree  1850-2050

This Witness Tree was a seedling in the Skagit river plain just prior to colonization. It witnessed: the first settlers, growth of the logging industry, laying of rails and Interstate 5, development of dikes and agriculture, droughts, floods and extreme temperatures before its demise from saltwater flooding in 2050. 

Witness trees remain in place after a historic event has unfolded in its presence. In this allegory, my fictional tree traces settlement and climate anomalies over 200 years through dendrochronology, the scientific method of dating trees by counting their rings. Rings are thin during any stressful event, but especially during dry years. Rainfall is critical during spring growth. Drought years, like 2022-23 are hard on a tree. The past decade has had several dry springs and summers, resulting in significant tree stress and dieback.

Like the rings of this tree, humans bear traces of stressors connected to colonialism and global warming. Many harbor stress-related epigenetic tags within our genetic code, manifesting our ancestors’ exposure to and survival of stressors. Through this perspective, we resemble the Witness tree, carrying the impact of decades of crisis but also resilience and survival.

Resilient forest survivors—Future Witness trees—will provide a record of climate change. The Skagit valley is one of the major floodplains of the Pacific Northwest. Future flooding will be extensive and more frequent. The Witness Tree reminds us of this entanglement between climate and the history of settlement and capitalist expansion and the results on our natural world.  

Mary Coss with Jennifer Parada Psychological Sciences and Dave Peterson, Ph.D. Forest Ecologist