Communicating with Trees

laos_tree_waterI think the first of my “tree experiences” happened as Jill and I were looking for a new house. The search wasn’t going well, and I had been advised to find the biggest, oldest tree I could find and ask it to help me. Nature is the most powerful force in the physical universe, and trees can be one of humankind’s most powerful natural allies. For some reason, they like us, and so they are sometimes willing to help humans accomplish things in the physical world by working on their behalf with the non-physical. There was a group of large old oaks near where I worked at the time, and one in particular was really magnificent. So I began visiting with this tree several times a week. I told it my problem, how we really needed to find a new house, and what our requirements were, and I asked it to help me in any way it could. And as the house hunt dragged on, I would sometimes share with the tree how frustrating it was and how badly we needed to move. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be any response from the tree, and sometimes it seemed to be helping me to relax and let go of the stress. The only time I remember it “saying” anything to me was one time when I was complaining about how long it was taking to find a house. I heard “Well, you want the right one, don’t you?”

By the time the house hunt ended, visiting with the oak had become part of my life. I went to see it at least three times a week, on my lunch break. It helped me with a variety of different things, and I also went to see it just to admire it; it was really a beautiful old tree! This went on for over two years, and in that time I had made contact with a large number of trees, and other plants of all kinds. Trees seemed to be “un-ruffle-able!” I remember sitting with another huge oak that was hundreds of years old. It was right in the middle of town, and I thought about how there had been absolutely no sign of “civilization” when the tree was “born.” I had a thought about how it was too bad for the tree that now it was surrounded by concrete and cars. But I got the distinct impression that the tree really wasn’t bothered by it at all. What is, is. No problem. That seemed, to me, to be the epitome of trees’ attitude about life: detached, observing, neutral, as they watched time go by.

So the time came when I was getting ready to retire from my job. Monday of my last week, I went to see “my” oak, as usual. I told it that I was leaving my job, so I wouldn’t be continuing to come and visit, and that I had really appreciated all the help it had given me. But instead of the casual good-bye I expected, I felt a huge wave of sadness pour from the tree and wash over me! I was shocked! Shocked! Oh, my god! Sadness from a tree? I was totally unprepared for that! I don’t know what was more of a shock, the sudden realization that trees have emotions, or that this grand tree, this incredible being, obviously over a hundred years old, would care about not being able to continue seeing me. How many people has he seen in his long lifetime? And he’s going to miss me? And then, after the shock subsided some, I felt really bad for not having said something earlier, instead of springing the news at the last minute. Who knew it would make a difference? Who knew a tree would care? What happened to detached, observing, neutral… all those “tree” things?

Well, obviously, after that, I couldn’t just go away and never come back! I visited with the oak from time to time, physically or energetically, before I left Austin for North Carolina. During that time, there were other surprising (though definitely not as shocking!) “tree experiences:”


One time Jill and I were at a concert in Zilker Park, out under the oaks at the Garden Center. As we listened, I was looking at a group of trees, and noticed that one was noticeably larger than the ones around it. I suddenly had the idea that the larger one was in charge of the group. Interesting thought… in charge of doing what? I had no idea. So I pointed out the group of trees to Jill, and asked her if she could tell me anything about them. I didn’t say anything about my idea, but she understood that I was asking if she could intuit anything about the trees. She studied the trees for a minute, then said, “The large one is the queen.”

It was an interesting twist on my idea, and definitely too close for coincidence. But neither one of us had ever heard anything like that before, so it was time to go to a higher authority, a friend who knows more about Mother Nature than we do. I told our friend about our different takes on the “in charge” tree, and his explanation bore out our hunches, but actually makes more sense: There is a sort of hierarchy in the realm of trees; the older trees have “seniority;” they are respected and looked up to by younger trees. And, considering my experiences with “my” oak tree, I know that very old trees certainly have a lot to offer, to younger trees and to humans alike.


Jill and I had a ficus tree that lived in our living room in Austin; we called “him” Fredrico, or Fred. (Fred the ficus, see? You have to give things appropriate names, like Bernice the bromeliad, Spike the horned toad, or Lizard Nimoy!) Strange as it may seem, we also had an artificial ficus, and one year at Christmas we decided that, instead of getting a live tree, we would just decorate the artificial ficus. So we were in the process of decorating the artificial ficus, and Jill said that she thought Fred wanted to be decorated also. I’m not sure, but I probably rolled my eyes! Why in the world would a tree care about having lights and colored balls hanging from his limbs? But she began putting things on him, and so I humored her and began doing it also. And right in the middle of hanging a red satin ball, boom! I felt it: Fred was tickled to death!

I think it was a combination of things. As I said earlier, trees like people, and they like attention from people. And, in this particular case, it seemed that Fred felt like he had always been treated kind of like furniture, and being decorated sure made him feel special! Who’d have guessed?

Fred’s story took another interesting turn. He got way too big for his pot, and so we put him into a bigger one, and did some root and limb pruning as part of the process. But something went wrong somewhere, and he began to lose leaves. And then little branches, and then larger limbs! We were picking up leaves off the floor every day, and it was getting serious. Nothing we did seemed to be helping. Finally, we decided that we needed to put him outside, or he was going to die; he couldn’t recover from the transplant in the low humidity of our central air. Our back patio had a translucent roof, so we knew the light wouldn’t be too bright for him there. Also, it was spring, and the patio was still wrapped in plastic, to protect our outdoor plants from the winter cold. This was a good time to put him out there, before the hot weather set in.

When we put Fred out on the porch, he was nervous. He had lived inside for most of his life, and suddenly here he was (sort of) outdoors! Everything was different; the air, the temperature, the sounds. Not to mention that we weren’t out there. But there were lots of plants out there already, so it wasn’t like he was alone. We talked to him, and told him it was really necessary for him to be out there, because he was dropping leaves at a serious rate, and this was a last-ditch effort to keep him alive.

Close to the location where we put Fred, there was a huge hanging fern that we had had forever. Its fronds were just all over the place, and things were kind of crowded on the patio. But we made sure that the fern wasn’t hanging on Fred, because we didn’t want him to feel infringed upon; everybody needs their space! We got all the plants situated, and said a prayer that Fred would do well and start to get strong again in his new home.

The next day, when we went out to check on the plants, we noticed that one of the fern’s long fronds was draped across one of Fred’s branches. Funny, we thought we had taken care to get them situated so that wouldn’t happen. So, we rearranged things a bit so that Fernie (That’s right, Fernie the fern!) and Fred were separated again. The next day, we found the same thing: one of Fernie’s fronds was extending out far enough to touch Fred. Again, we separated them, and, the next day, found them touching again. We were very puzzled. There was no wind, because of the plastic surrounding the patio; so why were the plants touching every morning?

It finally dawned on us, with a little help from our “friends:” Fred had been nervous and definitely not feeling that good about the whole moving-outside experience. On the other hand, Fernie, the old-timer, had lived outside all his life. Our old fern was comforting the anxious new-comer! I’ve had lots of strange experiences with plants, and I still find that one hard to believe! Well, Fred did extremely well out on the patio. He filled out, got full again, and started growing taller again. When we left him (and Fernie) with a friend and moved to NC, he was in the best shape he’d ever been in. Fernie was looking pretty good, too!


In a rural area, outside of far southwest Austin, there is a hospital that has a labyrinth, of all things, right there on the hospital property. It’s sandwiched between the parking lot and a wooded area, and it’s available to the public.

Jill and I were out there one night to walk the labyrinth. I had already finished, and was sitting on a bench, waiting for her and just kind of “being” in that space. I was noticing the trees, mostly cedars, that half-surrounded the area. Cedars are very friendly trees (Jill says they feel like grandparents.) and they seemed to enjoy having the labyrinth there. I think they liked all the human traffic that it brought to their area. I was looking at the trees that were closest to the opening of the labyrinth; there was a smallish tree there that I didn’t recognize, and it definitely didn’t have the same feel of “appreciation” that the cedars did. As I focused on the tree, I could tell that it was puzzled. It didn’t understand why we were out there walking around in circles!

It was hard to keep from laughing out loud, but I maintained my composure, because Jill was still in the labyrinth. When she came out, and came over to the bench, I pointed out the tree, and, as usual, asked her what she noticed about it. She studied it for a minute, then said, “It wonders why so many people come out here.”

Obviously, the little tree didn’t understand about labyrinths. And the more I “visit” with plants, the more I know that they wonder about a lot of things that people do!


When Jill and I bought our house in NC, one of the first things we put on our to-do list was to plant a row of trees at the back of our property to block the view of the houses behind us. The neighbors are nice, but we didn’t move 1200 miles, to a semi-rural area, for a view that looks like we still live in the city! So, before too long, the nursery guys were there with 17 evergreen trees: 16 Green Giants, and 1 Emerald Green.

While the guys were taking the trees from the trailer in the driveway to their respective locations in the yard, Jill and I were hanging out by the trailer, admiring the trees lying there. We were both excited as could be, and before too long, we both noticed that the trees were excited too! It still makes me grin to this day, to think about how excited those trees were! Every time I looked at them, I felt it, and I just had to start laughing, because they were like little kids! It was like, Oh, boy, we’re getting to go out into the world, and be real trees, and, boy, isn’t this exciting!!! You could really feel that they were starting an adventure! I never had thought about it before that, but I guess the whole time that trees are living in a nursery, either in a pot or in a ball of burlap, they’re thinking about getting to do what they’re really intended to do: Grow in the earth. Well, these guys were ready!

It took a few hours for the workers to plant all those trees. Jill and I mostly just watched and anticipated, but we kept the workers supplied with water and made sure that each tree was placed upright and the row was straight. And just before each tree was placed in the ground, Jill would say a prayer and place a quartz crystal in the hole. The workers were great; they spoke almost no English, and probably thought we were crazy, but they caught on pretty quick. As they prepared the compost in the hole, Jill stood by, and when they were ready to place the tree, they would stop and look at her. That was her signal to do her ritual, and when she finished, they would plant the tree.

About half way through, I began to get concerned about the trees that were lying out in the open for so long, with their root balls exposed. It was an incredible September day, with a cool breeze, but still I felt a little uneasy, so I started checking on the ones that were still not planted. The Emerald Green was the last one in line, and when I got to him, I knew we had a problem. The Green Giants all felt great, but the Emerald Green was definitely not okay. I felt like I was kneeling next to a sick animal! I called Jill over, and we began to connect with the tree to see if we could tell what was wrong. In just a couple seconds, we both felt the same thing: a terrible, aching loneliness! But how could it be lonely, with 16 other trees there? (For that matter, how could a TREE be lonely? I have to admit, as I write these stories, I have to wonder how I can be surprised, over and over again!) It was lonely because it was the only one of its kind; no other Emerald Greens, just a lot of Green Giants.

I got on the phone quick to the nursery manager. “Please don’t think I’m a pain in the butt, but I need another Emerald Green. Now.” He had said earlier that he thought we needed another one because of the space we were trying to fill, and I’m sure he thought that’s why we wanted another one now. So I felt him smile, but he didn’t gloat, just said he’d be over with one pretty quick. The fact is, we didn’t need another one to block the view, but we did have room for another one, so I just let him think he was right. If he had asked, we’d have told him the story, but he didn’t, so we didn’t. There was probably a reason.

Once we got the other Emerald Green, the first one began to feel better, and by the time we got them in the ground, they both felt just fine. It’s been four months now, and everybody’s doing just great. When we go out to check on them, they love the attention. And it’s amazing to see that each one has a different personality, just like a bunch of little kids. And those trees are happy as can be, enjoying doing what they were put here to do! (Hmmm… Sounds like a lesson to me.)