Trees are deep silence at their core. Inside themselves they are quiet and calm. If you listen, even on a breezy day, underneath the sounds of their branches waving and leaves rushing, you can hear it. In a storm it’s there underneath the way they orchestrate the elements, by groaning against the wind, by hurling branches and bark to the ground. The quiet that is a tree can even be felt underneath the noises of the creatures that live in them, oftentimes indistinguishable from the trees themselves.
To hear or feel the resonance of trees, your energy must match them. You must be quiet and still, or at least you must want to be quiet and still. The sound they make is so quiet, you’ll be listening for a sound like a heart humming. Like the feeling of someone radiating peace while listening to music.
When trees are distressed though, they stop humming and talk. In utter faith that someone will hear and understand, they send out words and phrases. It is the poetry of the green. The voice of Life.
This one asked me for help over the summer. It was covered in a vine I think is called bittersweet. Trees get strangled easily by it, and in a few years they can choke completely. (And the sweet part is?)
This gentle, beautiful oak that looks protectively over my children, fondly guarding them as they play, called out to me from her group of trees. Her group lines up in a way that shows they were probably planted to mark property lines before fences went up around here. The group+ ended up on the other side of the fence, so technically they aren’t our trees. On this smirking premise, we tried for years to engage the neighbor man who “owns” them next door in collaborative tree care. No dice. He rents out the house and only comes by once or twice a week to manage the adjacent storage facility in the back. No news is good news to him.
So we did what we could over on our side, and sometimes on his side too when no one was home. Occasionally we would appeal to him by wondering out loud about the greater liability presented by long-dead branches that hung over onto our swing set.
My husband finally resigned from tree duty one really hot summer when it took him the better part of two days on the storage facility side of the fence to get the trees free of the bittersweet. Since then we just sort of watch and worry, and do what we can on our side.
Except this summer the tree asked me very politely. Help. Please get help. I’m going to die soon if these vines don’t come off.
And kept asking.
I relayed the message from the tree to my husband. Who went and checked, and sure enough the bittersweet had gotten pretty nasty on the other side of the fence, not just around the sweet oak but everywhere. I then asked, using the minuscule amount of charm left to me by the day’s heat, Darling Husband, can we not do something?
Nope. The man was done and dusted.
I was tired too. I had never worked so hard at yard work since moving in. Years of raking up dozens upon dozens of bags of leaves in autumn, only to “clean up” again in spring, more raking and perching on ladders at precarious angles lopping off branches, in late summer having the arches of our feet rearranged by fallen acorns….and of course, who can forget to mention the frenzied, numbing gathering of the last leaves just before the first snow. The first snow, such a delight, and ironically the only thing that would bring down the last, most stubborn oak leaves. I had done it all gladly and well, but I was tired too.
Were they not “our” trees but for lines drawn at some point in the last 130 years, by the sort of permit official who was amenable to interpreting the property boundaries a certain way? You know, in exchange for a number of bills discreetly attached to the application?….or was a deal made between neighbors when the fence first went up? Trees on one side, a discount on materials on the other?
Who knows. But I have to say, I think that whoever put that fence up wasn’t listening to what the trees themselves were suggesting. It has always felt like they want to be over here with us, like they yearn to pick up their skirts of weeds and step on over to our side over here. Tolkien wasn’t that far off. These trees have been whispering to us for years. They marked us for sympathizers from the moment we pulled up. Why else would they press up against the fence with their branches reaching almost completely over into our yard from the other side, like teen-aged girls trying to push their way past a line of boy-band bouncers?
And this particular tree who was so politely asking for assistance clearly didn’t get the memo that at some point in the history of these houses, lines had been drawn. Barriers were set, leading to this moment, this sometime in the future, when money, energy, and time would be at stake during a brutally hot week scarce of all three. But the tree didn’t care. She had no time for arguing over mine, yours, ours. She was choking.
What to do? Tell Neighbor Man that I really meant it this time, because I’m an intuitive who can talk to trees and this one needs help dammit? Thanks, Tree. You get the gift of life and I get to be forever known as the crazy lady next door.
A couple of screwing-up-my-courage-weeks later, I took a deep breath, and as cheerfully as I could, using all my Jedi powers (you will help the tree, you love that tree), as if I’d never asked him every single summer for years, I smiled and asked if he could please see to the tree at the back because the bittersweet looked pretty bad.
I had to, or never sit in my garden again. If you are the sort of person who, through no fault of your own, can commune with nature, it’s pretty impossible to sit in your garden enjoying it while a few yards away a beautiful tree is dying and asking for rescue. Neighbor Man said what he always does, that he’d get his guy to look at it, if he even showed up that summer. With a look on his face that was somewhere between, “Kids these days” and “It’s just a tree”.
Then nothing happened for three weeks. And then we went away for three weeks.
When we came back the tree looked the same. I despaired. Through my jet-lagged stupor that weekend, I heard the sound of yard work close by but failed to hope. I had resigned myself to minimizing, rationalizing, what was the big deal, what was one tree in the face of all the stuff I had to deal with, in the face of all the suffering and challenges the whole world faces…
One skinny, hapless vine was dangling in defeat from a branch, having been chopped off near the ground, so it looked a little like an illusion. But no, she had been tended to.
She was free.
And I was of a mind to understand the sweet part, finally.