Talking to a tree

I hur­ry along the nar­row path. The rain has final­ly over­tak­en me, here in the rel­a­tive wilder­ness at the edge of Read­ing. I know there will be a place to shel­ter around the cor­ner. There it is, the plane tree. Knob­bly, lop­sided and with branch­es that almost reach the ground. Hug­ging it would take four peo­ple.

I sit down in the hol­low of the roots. Thou­sands of green umbrel­las are keep­ing me dry. With each gust of wind their applause erupts. Here and there a brown leaf floats to the ground. I have come here to talk to the plane tree. And of course I hope the tree will talk back.

In the world that J.R.R. Tolkien cre­at­ed, there were trees that could talk, like Tree­beard in this pic­ture. They had learned this from the Elves in a dis­tant past. The Elves talked so much to the trees that they start­ed talk­ing back.

Hmm, this rain­show­er is start­ing to turn into the great flood. I have to find anoth­er spot and crawl close to the tree. Squat­ting between the folds of the trunk, I stay most­ly dry. The soil is get­ting sat­u­rat­ed and mud is now splash­ing against my legs. It’s like sit­ting at the bot­tom of a water­fall; the noise is all-con­sum­ing. As soon as I start to lis­ten care­ful­ly, I hear the sound decrease. The rhyth­mic tap­ping of the drops takes over.

I real­ly want to under­stand this lan­guage again. The lan­guage of the rain, the rustling of leaves, the mem­o­ries stored in the slow growth of trees. I am now read­ing The Over­sto­ry, a book that takes the per­spec­tive of trees. Trees live on such a dif­fer­ent timescale than our short lives. And they talk to each oth­er (TED Talk van ecoloog Suzanne Simard). Every­thing is con­nect­ed in a for­est.

The rain ensures that I stay here for an hour and a half. Away from email, work, always run­ning around. Clos­er to the rhythm of the tree. Tree­beard said about Old Entish, the tree lan­guage: “It is a love­ly lan­guage, but it takes a very long time say­ing any­thing in it, because we do not say any­thing in it, unless it is worth tak­ing a long time to say, and to lis­ten to.”

To be fair, I still feel like a stranger here. My clothes are too thin and I need to go to the loo. A piece of plane tree pokes my low­er back. I turn around stiffly. The proud umbrel­las now hang limply from their branch­es. The smell of the wet earth is intox­i­cat­ing. Dead things that wait calm­ly until they are ready to give food to oth­ers. Is this what the tree want­ed to tell me at the begin­ning of fall?

When I get up to go home, the sun is almost break­ing through the clouds. I walk back up the path and turn around one more time. Thanks for let­ting me take shel­ter.