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.