Enormous oak trees—supported by spine, maples, hickories, and hawthorns—stand guard over the forest floor. Most people assume trees do not have thoughts or emotions, but people’s assumptions may be informed entirely by their innate limitations. Humans probably cannot comprehend the possibility that a completely different intellectual and emotional framework exists in trees. And most people probably cannot fathom the possibility that other forms of natural flora also might possess the ability to think and feel and otherwise engage with the world around them. Humans are informed by human experience; people cannot experience life as trees any more than trees can experience life as humans. Each can comprehend existence from a perspective available only to themselves and those like them.

Pain is experienced differently by different people. Yet all people seem to understand the pain they feel; and they can understand that other people feel something similar. It is entirely possible that trees also experience pain, but pain for trees may be utterly different from the human experience of pain. Pain, in people, involves both a physical experience and an intellectual experience; trees? Who knows? Pain, for trees, could be expressed as something completely foreign to human experience. And, so, entirely incomprehensible. Not even recognizable as pain. Or whatever other physical and intellectual experiences trees can know.

Humans experience the universe from an incredibly limited perspective. Yet we assume our perspective is the only one; we assume we are the only beings who can think abstract thoughts. That parochial assumption limits our ability to explore the universe outside our own myopic point of view. I wish I could engage in conversation with trees. But what I imagine as communication with trees might well be severely limited; I may be—I am—incapable of even imagining the way an interaction between trees and people might take place.

This entire discussion no doubt seems absurd. But only to those of us—me included—whose imagination and creativity is limited by our own insularity. I cannot decide whether my thoughts on the matter are evidence of stupidity or, instead, indications of my own potential for engagement between kingdoms or phyla or classes or…whatever.  Do trees know about, or care about, the taxonomic hierarchies humans use to classify life forms?

For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh ~

Mi novia and I, while visiting with someone in Hot Springs yesterday, heard a piece of advice that went something like this: Don’t listen to or read or watch the news first thing in the morning. That sets you up for a day imbued with worry and stress. Start the day free of the world’s problems; the rest of the day will be much more pleasant if you do.”

I agree. But the habit is hard to break. I should be outside now, listening to the birds (which I hear, anyway, through the window). You and I should make it a point to spend the mornings outside, listening to the sounds of Nature and enjoying the absence of divisiveness and global conflict. Join me?


Phaedra is expressing herself to me, but I do not understand what she is saying. Her meows could mean hunger or they could indicate a desire to be held or stroked. Or allowed to go outdoors. Or contempt for me and everything I say and do. I am baffled by cat noises. How in the world can I ever hope, then, to understand the language of trees, much less appreciate their experiences in the universe. It is thoroughly hopeless to think I can ever “engage with” trees. No more than I can converse with cantaloupes. Apparently, I am attracted to alliteration. And, of course, to you—who can talk to me and be understood and, possibly, who will not judge me harshly for my bizarre thoughts.


Breakfast with my fellow geezers is on the calendar this morning. Typically, when I join them for breakfast, I listen and say little. Today is apt to be no different. I am predictable.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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