I feel like reaching far today. Like this will be the farthest I have reached in all my years. This is the day that I will tell my story and you will receive it with warmth and understanding. I am with you now, even as you read this and soon you will know me as yours; as you are mine.
My name is Jji. The day of my beginning rests to memory now, but I can name my mother and the father of my seed. For what beginnings are not grounded with the profundity of parents? Chatter, really. These first few words are chatter. Beginnings are not relevant unless the middle or the end enliven the senses with curiosity. So, it begins here. I will attempt to touch your senses.
I am 237 years old. I am 83 feet tall and I have lived in the same place my entire life. The same spot…really. I am not a great tree. I have a simple trunk and narrow leaves. But I reach high into the possibility of my growing and reach deep into the womb from whence I sprang.
I have seen you walkers come and go and sometimes find complacency in your passing. I do not wish to offend. But even the walkers I have loved seem strange to me. I do not understand you. Have I intrigued you yet? I want to intrigue you. I think we should get to know each other better. There are things about your life and practices which worry me and I wish to get them off my trunk.
Why are you so angry? When in your growing did you learn to feed your mind fat, with mendacious lies? I am sorry for your pain. I take it away when you come near enough. But collectively you bear too much and even I have trouble keeping up. Your pain is like a virus, which you foster, breed and spread. Pain to fear to ego, then to angry ways and no longer can you feel the love I send.
It’s not your fault. Equipped with all the higher mammalian attributes, the one you need the most is not inborn. It is learned. Our calling is to teach you. But you are so caught up in your language, you seldom hear our song. I wish to tell you secrets. I wish to show you visions of other worlds. I wish to give you peace and heal your soul. But standing here amidst your deafening campaigns, I can only wait. I have waited long enough. I reach inside your mind, now.
Perhaps because the cord to womb is never severed for us, we remember life as it began. We lived as one back then; one collective life and genetic makeup. Our common ancestor was called LUCA. In the beginning were the Elders-three: Bacteria, Archaea and Eucaryote. Though we all share the structure of LUCA via DNA and RNA, you and I descended from the great Eucaryote. You are my kin. My veins run cold with magnesium-rich Cholorphyll and yours with iron-Blood. When magnesium and iron changed their place and blood began to flow within your veins you were set free from the still silence of a life umbilically tied to the Mother. Some of us think you ran amuck with that freedom. Nonetheless, today these tiny rocks within our veins remain our only difference. I am happy to be still, silent and green.
All mothers wish for their offspring to be so special that the world lifts them up and protects them. The most valued in a species endure with love and when the Mother gave birth to us, we indeed changed the world. 700 million years ago, we took deep gulps of the heavy carbon dioxide air and breathed out oxygen. We trapped the deadly carbon in our bodies and helped cover the rocks with lovely silent snow. This is how you grew strong with the solid structure of a tree inside.
For centuries we lived in harmony. There were even walkers who worshipped our kind and revered our connection to the Mother. But, like spoiled children with no supervision on a playground, you walkers went wild with blood-lust. You forgot our kinship. You desecrated the graves of our ancestors. You cut deep into the body of the Mother, ripped the carbon from our graves and burnt it; setting free the poison gasses to injure all life upon Her. Don’t you understand? The mother sent us here with lignin in our bodies to trap the poison far from her new children so you could grow bones and stand upright as we trees do.
I bet you didn’t know that we have a developed and functional nervous system. You are so arrogant, you walkers, to think your walker thoughts as if you own them. In fact, our nervous system is very similar to that of your own and like your brain, we have a center called a root neck. We are capable of tactile perception and demonstrate this throughout our kingdom. We grow with tendril vines so sensitive to touch they will begin to coil within twenty seconds. As mimosas, we grow with leaves which droop and appear lifeless when the vibration of an approaching herd is felt. We began as one. We are still akin. But your kind was not happy thinking still so you walked away.
So brave and self-assured that you could live a severed life, you endeavored to create a different world. And that you have. You are very noisy creatures. It seems as though you suffer to be silent with yourself. Maybe you’re afraid that if you think too hard and know too much, in your stillness, roots will begin to grow again. Most of the time, I can only imagine what you think. But sometimes, one will come and linger with me; and for a time, your chaos seems more clear. You are frightened children. Deep within, you sense your disconnection and long to be held down by your roots with the certainty of love and simple lives. But that is our purpose. We came to prepare the earth for you. You are the favored child now, given more freedom and beauty than any life before you. Alas, you are still children with much to learn.
I remember Seane. She was a walker I loved. She lingered with me all the days of her life. For hours she would climb across my branches. Then, climbing turned to sitting still beneath me. She read to me from books, and then she wrote them. She came to me with vivid dreams and ideas she put to words and then to pages. I gave her my honest opinions and sometimes she would write them with her words. She lived a quiet life below the hillside. She loved and lived unlike most walkers do. Carefree with her gait and every attribute, she was the one I almost envied. The closest I could come to wish for walking was when she danced beneath my swaying bow.
Seane brought each of her children to me on the very day they arrived. She buried one beside me one wet spring. She asked me to watch over her sweet child. Watching turned to living as his little body fed my roots and he became a part of me. I began to think his little thoughts in a tree-like way. Day after day, she lay her withering body against the rock that marked his grave. She poured out pain in waves I almost could not bear. But I will forever cherish the day that Seane heard me thinking my thoughts in his childlike way. She stopped crying to the rock. She stood up on trembling limbs, wrapped her arms around my trunk and sang a lullaby in rhythm with my sway. She spent a season singing to me each dusk and, for the rest of her life, spoke his name as though she understood. She healed the pain of mother-loss with me that season, and never cried about the child again.
Seane’s children buried her beside me and beside the rock that bore her child’s name. I think her thoughts in a tree-like way now.
But there were others whose thoughts I never care to think and whose ways have left indelible scars on my body. I heard the screams and cries of anguish one cold, fall morning. Reaching with my mind to the crying, I found a forest of my kin. It was a slaughter; a massacre of life and brutal slaying. Limbs were being torn and body’s broken, hacked and sawed. Dying trunks were left to decay as lifeless bodies were chopped to bits and carried off by walkers. For many days the crying and the killing filled my senses. And then there was nothing but the silence of life that had once been.
If you want to understand this in terms of your language, we trees communicate in several ways. Through intricate networks of fungal filigrees, chemically, we send signals down complex fungal pathways to warn our kind of environmental change, search for kin, and even transfer nutrients to offspring or a struggling neighboring plant. Sometimes, we do so denying nutrients to ourselves, in a self-sacrificing act of community survival…even across species. You walkers have yet to learn this.
We also communicate through what you call w-waves. When a tree is injured, there is a measurable response in our entire kingdom for more than a mile away. We are here. We are present. We exist. Can’t you imagine our right to exist in peace? I wish that you would.
The walkers of the old ways were much kinder with our bodies. Our wood became their shelter and their fuel and for this, they were grateful to us. They came to us in silence and asked permission. They waited for an answer, sometimes for days. Whenever one was cut, another would be planted. When limbs were taken, food and water were given to our roots. We had an understanding, as the older walkers listened to our thinking. But our beloved friends passed swiftly as a pale wave of strangers pushed them from their homes and the land we shared. The pale walkers were unkind and had little reverence for life. Eventually, a kinder man came to settle on our dirt with tiny children and he learned to love our hallowed dirt. He understood the rhythm of the seed to earth and his family stayed with us for many generations. Eventually, they gave me my Seane.
After the passing of Seane, her children continued to visit with their children, their lovers, and the celebration dances. They grew old and died and their children continued the traditions of their line. But there was only one since her who spoke my language and felt my stillness. He touched the soil with hardened hands and planted the seeds which fed his family as they grew. The old farmer, in the ways of his wise grandmother, spoke to the earth and respected Her silence. He would come to my side when the weather was bad and give me his fears. He leaned on my body and gave me his pain as his own began to fail. I gave him shade and reassurance and he always left kind words of gratitude behind for me.
The old man is dying now. His son will take the farm and make a field of stone there. I know it won’t be long until the season of my time comes to pass and all that I have seen will pass with me and with my friend the farmer.
The old man is dead now. His son has buried the fields in sheets of blackened tar and all the life below has ended. I hear the thunder of machines and feel the low, dull pulse of my impending doom. Soon I will feel the cutting of my body and the scattering of my senses. All that I once was will pass and all that I know with me.
Before I face my final moment, I leave you this. I am with you now. I am all around you, can you feel me? Listen to the sound of tree-song. Feel the possibility of your growing and reach deep into the womb from whence we sprang. I am not a great tree. I have a simple trunk and narrow leaves. But I am only a tiny rock away from being you. In my passing, think your thoughts in a tree-like way.
(The featured image is was my sister’s favorite tree and the inspiration for this story, as she was my inspiration for the character Seane.)
© Copyright 2/18/2005, iD magazine