“To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is therefore to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty.”
Maria Popova in The Songs of Trees
It’s a special, but not rare thing. I can sit on the patio and hear the whisper of the breeze through the trees around our yard, and watch the gentle swaying of the branches. It’s almost hypnotic and gives me a sense of community, comfort and peace.
It also seems to permeate into the house in the early morning through the open, second floor bedroom windows and into the kitchen over my coffee. It’s as though the world, conveyed by the trees, is saying, “It’s okay, we’re friends here; everything is safe.”
I think without that calming sense I would be more tense, even grumpier than my wife thinks me to be. I wonder whether the ‘real world’ as portrayed by the newspaper and internet is as real as the personal community of the trees.
In ‘Jazz’, Maria Popova references William Bryant Logan, “Hermann Hesse believed that if we could learn to listen to the trees, we would achieve profound perspective on our human lives by grasping the deepest meaning of aliveness … To study how trees grow is to admire not only their persistence but also their imagination.”
“When we have learned how to listen to trees, … then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”
She also quotes David George Haskell in ‘Songs’, “Instead, living memories of trees, manifest in their songs, tell of life’s community, a net of relations. We humans belong within this conversation, as blood kin and incarnate members. To listen is therefore to hear our voices and those of our family.”
Hiking in the woods, I have become conscious of a rhythm in my head that could possibly be the pace of my strides. It may also be the music of the trees, imperceptible to the conscious, but imprinted in the brain nonetheless. The Japanese promote ‘tree bathing’ as a means of calming the mind and soothing life’s pains. Regardless of the name given, nature can heal the sprit and the soul.
Popova continues in ‘Songs’, “Because life is network, there is no ‘nature’ or ‘environment,’ separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with ‘others,’ so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory … We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.”
Often, when I encounter someone in our yard — a bird or squirrel or the rare garter snake — I’ll say hello and ask them what they’re up to. I usually caution them to be aware of the dog and two cats that may, in some instances, be less friendly than me. We sometimes discuss the amount of bird food left in the feeder and someone will often leave me a feather in thanks.
I believe that any individual is a part of their natural community. We sense our commonness with nature’s living things and if we listen properly, we can hear their songs. It’s like an orchestra sometimes, there’s a dominating roll of drums or blare of horns underlain by the persistent rush of strings or piano. The trees may draw the most attention, but the shrubs, grasses and beds of flowers provide a subtle undertone.
It strikes a chord within us because deep down, we are a part of nature’s whole. We just need to pause to listen.
Orion Magazine, Old Growth, August 17, 2021
Maria Popova, The Jazz of Trees: The Fascinating Science of Improvisation, Reiteration, and Phoenix Regeneration, 9/5/21, Brain Pickings
Maria Popova, The Songs of Trees: A Biologist’s Lyrical Ode to How Relationships Weave the Fabric of Life, by David George Haskell, 12/08/17, Brain Pickings,