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Learning from a tree To understand the black spruce, remember it grows from a fist-sized root ball as grey and compact and crucial as a brain. Each black spruce spindles itself straight up into the crack of the cold, stout branches making a skyward scrub from base to apex all winter night. And below that brain of roots lies permafrost, even in summer. This, then, is a tree that keeps ice in mind. I remember meeting black spruce during my move from southeast Alaska to the interior. I was ill at the time, a fjordlands creature with an immune system gone haywire, taking temporary leave from the rainforest and a sabbatical from the whole glaciated coast against which my fevers flared. I went inland, aiming for semi-arid, boreal-forested Fairbanks, where I hoped to find a kind of medicine. It was end-summer when I went, fall-not-winter. The road north took me…