listening to the trees


Photo by Stefan Steinbauer via Unsplash

Trees can talk to each other. I know this because I read an article about it a couple years ago and then started to watch a TED talk until I got distracted by a Kardashian on Ellen, but not before getting the general gist. Scientists discovered trees in forests use their complicated underground network of roots to pass information to each other — even different species were helping and supporting one another, alerting the community to danger and sharing nutrients underneath the forest floor, working together in a singular ecosystem.


My desk sits beneath a large window in my bedroom, where I begin most mornings with a cup of coffee, watching as the sun comes over the hills in Burbank and floods my room with light. Directly through the trees behind my computer monitor is a large, white uppercase B, inexplicably branded into the side of the hill.


I don’t know how it got there, but I like to think someone years ago had the grand idea to copy the Hollywood sign (“except it’ll say…wait for it…BURBANK!”). Then the project stalled after the first letter was erected due to money problems or creative differences (“white letters are so last year — let’s do colored numbers!”) and eventually the whole idea was abandoned. Soon, the neglected B just fell over and stayed stamped into the side of the hill, now dutifully maintained by the widow of the genius behind the failed venture who holds out hope that one day, the town will come to their senses and finish the rest of the word.


I always run the same loop in my neighborhood. I head out my door and follow the street until it slopes upward, gradually at first and then sharply, which is about the time I debate turning around and heading down, letting the momentum carry me easily back to my front door and more importantly, my bed. But I know if I keep going up, enduring five more painful minutes of panting and pushing, I’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley — sometimes smoggy, sometimes clear, but always satisfying.


I recently read a quote by Hubert Reeves — the Canadian Neil DeGrasse Tyson — that’s stayed with me. “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware this Nature he’s destroying is the God he’s worshipping.”


Trees line most of my run, their large, leafy canopies stretching over the concrete sidewalks, broken by an occasional row of palm trees dotting the skyline like brown and green Q-tips or skinny, stationary fireworks shooting straight up. As I jog around and under them, I wonder what they’re saying to each other, what they think about what humans have done to their neighborhood. I wonder if they’re constantly warning each other about us, sending unseen amber alerts underground about our cars and our buildings and the bald guy who’s running even though he’s not being chased by any animal and is he singing show tunes? Really?


Like Reeves, I stopped believing in god with capital G a long time ago, choosing instead to find solace and awe in nature with a capital N. As I jog back down the hills and past the lonely B, I hold out hope we can listen to the trees and help each other, learning lessons from Nature that maybe it doesn’t have to be survival of the fittest all the time, and one day we’ll come to understand what the trees have known all along, that our fates are all inextricably linked, part of the same ecosystem.


This is post #23/30 in a 500 Words-A-Day Challenge. Read them all here.