One of the conversations I had at the Interspecies Communication workshop was with a Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), a coniferous evergreen found along the Central Coast of California. Once part of a vast, unbroken Western forest, now only two native stands remain – Pebble Beach and Point Lobos – which is why the Monterey cypress is listed by the State of California as an Endangered Species.
Although it is rare “in the wild”, the Monterey cypress has been planted widely outside its native region. My tree had been planted as a wind break, one of several placed in a row along a berm. Mine was a small tree, about 10 feet tall, with a 16″ diameter trunk. It wasn’t particularly noticeable, yet it called me to sit with it, and so I did.
First I sent a greeting and told the tree it was a fine-looking tree. We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then I asked the tree how it was doing, if there was anything it wanted to share with me? Immediately the tree told me that it was sad and lonely. Why? Because no one had shown it any appreciation. It was ignored. It wanted to be in a forest, surrounded by its friends.
I wondered if I was making this story up. Then the tree told me that it had been abused. Really? I was shocked. How? The tree told me to look closely, to pay attention and see how it’s branches had been hacked off and severed in a thoughtless and inconsiderate manner. Some of the cuts actually looked infected. I’m no arborist, but I could see that this tree had been mistreated, that it had been planted and pruned without care or consideration. The tree told me to step back so it could show me how parts of it were dead and dying. Again, I was shocked. I would not have noticed this, if the tree weren’t telling me.
My Monterey cypress tree was damaged, but it was also robust and tenacious. It was a survivor. Before I left, it told me to go back to the people and tell them to stop hurting the trees, to learn how to tend them in a good way. That if we do this, the trees will grow strong and provide untold gifts for a healthy, abundant world.
I went back to my workshop group to share what I had learned, and was immediately challenged by a strong-minded woman who took great offence that a tree might be “lonely” or “sad”. “Trees are all pure unconditional love” she told me. “Trees are happy to be here. They don’t get sad or angry.”
Maybe, maybe not. I know my Monterey cypress spoke to me. I know what I heard. It could have been my imagination, or a projection of my own life experience. But if we imagine that trees are happy and content all the time (or that they aren’t sentient beings at all) then isn’t that even worse? Doesn’t that justify the continued abuse of trees?
Isn’t it time we started listening deeply to the trees, to ask them where they want to grow, how they want to be tended, and what they need to be connected and fully alive? Doesn’t that seem like a conversation worth having?