Me as a child, at the height of my tree-talking days.
When I was a kid, I used to regularly talk to the tree outside my bedroom window. I loved that tree, and not just because it was pretty, but also because I was convinced it would respond to me.
What would I say to it? Usually I would say hi and good morning, then tell it just how pretty I thought it was and how I loved it. Then I’d inevitably ask if it loved me too; if the tree’s leaves ruffled significantly, that was “yes” and if the tree stayed mostly still, that was “no.”
I’m proud to say I don’t recall the tree ever telling me it didn’t love me. And I swear I never cheated by asking that question on windy days or when the tree was already moving. (I tended to be an overly honest kid, even to the point of letting teachers know when they’d mistakenly given me a higher test score due to a grading error. Yeah, I was that kid.)
Other times I’d ask more specific questions, like, “Will I have a good birthday party this weekend?” You know, matters of importance when you’re a child. And I’d be thrilled when the tree would immediately respond with rustling, swaying leaves. Or I’d be happy when it would stay still, like when I asked it if I would get a bad report card. And sometimes I didn’t ask any questions, instead talking to it about whatever was on my mind.
I can’t tell you how I came to start conversing with this tree, since these chats began almost as soon as I could talk and interact with others as a toddler — although those early conversations were likely limited. But as far back as I can remember, I would greet this tree and speak with it to the best of my ability, just as I would communicate with anyone else. It seemed perfectly normal to me, and I don’t recall initially feeling like what I was doing was “weird” or that my encounters were in my mind. Especially since the responses I’d get when I asked a question were uncannily accurate and flowed with the conversation nicely.
As I grew up, though, I unfortunately allowed myself to become more cynical and easily embarrassed if I did things other people didn’t do or admit to. So I don’t recall having these tree chats after about age 8, or even talking about them. In fact, as I got older, I rarely reflected back on those times at all. It’s only been in the past few years that I started remembering this and wondering why I’d done it — and whether I’d been on to something, or if I’d simply been a weird kid.
So, recently I’ve talked to other people to get their reactions on my tree chats. Incidentally, it’s not easy to bring up a topic like this casually. “Wow, is it hot out today! It’s almost as bad as the summer I was 7 and my tree agreed it was the hottest summer in years!” (Cue strange look.)
No, instead I just openly described the experience to friends, family and some select coworkers and asked them what they thought, or if they’d ever experienced something similar.
Pretty much everyone found it odd, and to this day, no one I know has ever admitted to anything like this. And although some were amused by my account, others seemed genuinely perplexed and even slightly disturbed by this behavior.
“You did what? Talked to a tree?” they’d ask incredulously, eying me closely as if looking for signs of a mental instability they’d missed before my confession. Somehow my experience seemed stranger to them than the prevalence of imaginary friends among young children. But the tree was a real, living thing — so why couldn’t I be friends with it?
Finally, though, I seemed to find one person who was open to an unusual situation like mine.
“I don’t think that’s weird,” a co-worker told me.
Aha! I felt understood!
“I think behaviors like that are common among only children,” she continued.
Oh. She thought I had talked to the tree since I’d grown up without brothers or sisters. That it was typical weird-only-child behavior stemming from boredom and trying to ease my loneliness. But I knew that wasn’t true, for a few reasons.
First of all, while I was growing up my mom worked as a babysitter out of our home to make sure I’d be well-socialized despite having no siblings — so I virtually always had other kids to play with and talk to. And I got to build relationships with them since my mom would be their primary babysitter for years; these weren’t just sporadic babysitting jobs with different children each time.
Plus, even when the kids went home at night, we often had family over or neighbors we’d become very close to, including a family in our building with a girl my age; she and I became best friends throughout elementary school, spending many nights in each other’s houses.
I also got along well with my mom, so it wasn’t like I was left to entertain myself if no other kids were around; my mom and I often played games, watched videos, went to the park….I basically never recall feeling bored or lonely.
Besides, I couldn’t get over the fact that the answers I’d get from the tree, and the feeling I had in these encounters, seemed too real to dismiss. You know when you just know something?
Like let’s say someone lies to you and although you have no proof, you just know you’re right. It may take time to get your confirmation, but eventually it comes and then you feel validated.
Or have you ever had a moment when you’re first meeting someone, perhaps a person you’ll eventually become close friends with, and you just know you feel a bond with them? Like a shared understanding, and you’re sure they feel it too — and down the line, you find out you do in fact have that bond and that they did feel it too? Well, that’s how I felt with my tree; I was sure I was in fact feeling a true connection to it.
Now I know it could be said that perhaps in hindsight my memory is sort of playing tricks on me, making me think these experiences were more accurate and significant than they were. I’m open-minded enough to have considered that possibility, but ultimately I choose to rely on the way I remember feeling and thinking in those special moments.
I’m not one to get lost in fantasies and was the same as a child; I wasn’t the type to talk with my dolls or stuffed animals, for instance. So the fact that this happened makes me feel that I was indeed talking with that tree. Although I’d still love to find others who may have experienced something like this, not having that still doesn’t take away from what I felt then and now consider to be true.
I should mention that I didn’t chat with every tree I saw; it’s not like I was obsessed with trees in general. For whatever reason, it was just this tree. One likely reason was my easy access to it at all hours, since it was right outside my window; but I also think I’d bonded with it, having seen it there since I’d been born. And a part of me likes to think that the tree may have connected with me too, on some kind of metaphysical level — particularly since I was a child, and children tend to be much more open to experiences outside of the “norm.” I sensed it was more than just a thing, and that was all I needed to be able to communicate with it in a way that most adults wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do.
Something that puzzled me, though, was why I had put these memories out of my mind for so long. But I’ve come up with a theory about this that makes sense to me now. It has to do with something that deeply affected me a few years later.
One day when I was about 13 or so, I woke up to the sound of banging outside. When I got out of bed to take a look out the window, I was horrified to see that the neighbors next door, where the tree’s roots were located, were having the tree chopped down.
I was horrified as I saw the tree shake with each slice into its trunk. I immediately felt profoundly sad, because I really loved that tree — even if I had stopped talking to it years before.
Later, the family that had chopped the tree down said it had grown too much and they’d wanted more light in their house. I have to say I never liked them after that. I don’t care if that makes me sound crazy; couldn’t they have just trimmed the branches, maybe?
I know at this point I’m sounding like some kind of tree-hugger. That’s fine by me. If anything, I wish I could talk to that tree again. I’d tell it I’m no longer embarrassed to have been friends with it and that I’m sorry I didn’t talk to it more while I had the chance.