What is really going on? At first glance there is nothing unusual in the way this young pine is growing. It is about seven feet tall, probably ten years old, eking out a living on the parched clay ridge. With its southern exposure it gets lots of light and the spring snow melt gives it a nice drink before the hot dry summer sets in.
All of this is normal for young pines living on this hogback above our home, but this particular young tree has an unusual feature distinguishing it from its neighbours. All the other pines in the area have long straight leaders, or candles as they are called, which point upward, guiding the trees as they reach for the sky.
The exact mechanism which governs the growth of these leaders is only partially understood. There are theories about cells sensing gravity, assumptions about biology, sunlight, nutrient transfer, genetic codes, all very well articulated scientific descriptions; however they don’t really explain the way in which a tree knows how to send one central shoot straight up and cause all the other shoots go sideways, forming branches.
There is more going on here than cell biology, more than the interplay of physics and photons.
A case in point is this young pine tree growing straight and tall on the ridge. It had lost its central leader. Maybe ice, maybe a squirrel, maybe a careless hand broke the candle off, leaving the fledgling pine directionless. But life is adaptable, finding ways around seeming impossible problems.
This youngster was determined to grow up and join its well formed, healthy brothers and sisters on the ridge community. What to do? This is where the mystery deepens. Usually, in each growth year, there is a whorl of three or four buds which start to grow out horizontally at the base of the leader as they begin to form branches. The leader grows vertically through the year and the lateral shoots spread sideways, cantilevering into space.
With no leader, the young pine used an ingenious strategy to overcome this problem. One of the normally sideways thrusting buds took a ninety degree turn and started to grow vertically, becoming the new leader. The buds on the rest of the whorl grew as usual, spreading parallel to the ground, while the former branch bud firmly established itself as the replacement spire, pulling the tree upwards to the heavens.
How did this happen? How did the tree decide to direct one branch to grow upward while the others went on with business as usual? If it were some mechanical process, then all four of the branch buds would have turned skyward, but no, just one took on the task. Was there some kind of conference? Did the nascent branches draw straws? Was it a privilege or a punishment to take on the role of leader?
There is a theory in biology called Morphic resonance. In short, it postulates the existence of an energy field which living organisms follow to become whatever being they are. That is why salamanders can grow new tails, or why one cell can become a few trillion diversified ones to make up a tree or a human body.
The Morphic field is an energy template guiding the life process, the same way software tells the hardware in your computer what to do, only this matter energy interaction is orders of magnitude more subtle and sophisticated than the most powerful supercomputers imaginable.
It is also a total mystery. The youngster on the ridge followed a pattern that has been successful for millions of years, an energy force unseen, unknown but fully manifest in the structure emerging as a healthy new pine.
Is this a conscious choice? Can this be called thinking? Where are the boundaries demarcating free will, energy fields and so called hardwired, unchanging outcomes?
In my view, this young tree made a choice; a deliberate action was taken to conform to the life model and physical structure of pinedom, fulfilling its destiny.