Around our house great trees stand watch over us. When I bought this house in 1994 some of them weren't there, and others were just little guys beginning their journeys through life. In my new neighbourhood houses were front and centre, with flowers, bushes and small trees dotted here and there as pleasant landscaping accents. Today our houses are hidden behind the thick foliage of beautiful tall trees.
During last winter's storms, spruce branches beat an insistent tattoo on my studio skylight – a loud reminder to do some much-needed pruning this summer. The “Little Linden”, planted 10 years ago in the front garden next to the “Big Linden” (because we thought it was dying) is now tossing its youthful green head of leaves into the electrical wires, while the “Big Linden” continues to thrive as healthy as ever and twice as tall.
I love to listen to trees, and I also talk to them. I address each one in the manner it seems to enjoy and respond to.
“Hello, you gorgeous big linden!” I say in a robust tone, or gently “You sweet little one! How I love to see you when I walk up Devon towards my house!”
As I speak, I look closely at the tree I am addressing, bringing that lovely individual into my conscious awareness.
I am not alone in this slightly strange pursuit. Every year the Prince of Wales, who is a fantastic gardener, opens his 900-acre garden estate in Gloucestershire to 30,000 tourists.
"I happily talk to the plants and trees, and listen to them. I think it's absolutely crucial," the prince says in a BBC documentary. "Everything I've done here, it's like almost with your children. Every tree has a meaning for me." The prince added that speaking and listening to the plants keeps him "relatively sane".
Experiments have been conducted in which the effect of sound on plants was studied. The results indicate that plants grow faster when spoken to, particularly by women.
Many years ago while on a Deep Listening retreat in a remote mountainous area of New Mexico I silently greeted and paid homage to several magnificent trees in a beautiful forest through which I walked early each morning from our retreat centre up a mountain to a meadow. After a week of such walks, I found myself one evening in the meadow with a group of about 20 people. We had taken a silent slow walk together and after enjoying the falling of twilight were ready to return to the centre. Because I had led the walk to the meadow, I felt it was my responsibility to lead the group home safely through the forest. Although there was no actual path, I imagined that because I had done the walk so often, I would have no trouble finding my way, but when we entered the darkness of the woods everything looked entirely different from how it appeared in the daylight.
As I led the line of quiet walkers down the mountain I became increasingly afraid. With my heart pounding in my ears I stared hard at the ground, searching for what I imagined to be the path. I began to wonder at what point I should stop and admit to the others that I was lost.
Suddenly, with no warning, I heard a voice clearly say: “Look! Remember me?” I peered into the darkness and there, looming up in front of me, was one of the trees I had lovingly greeted each morning. Because I recognized it I knew which way to walk. I silently thanked it and continued down. Again, as I grew uncertain, I heard another voice: “Over here, silly goose! Don't you remember me?” and straight ahead was another of my favourite early morning trees, smiling down at me, guiding me along the path. This was repeated several more times. By the time we arrived at the camp I knew I had experienced a miracle. The trees I had looked at so intently with deep appreciation and gratitude had helped me in return.
Like the Prince, do you believe trees and plants respond positively when they are treated with respect and love? Although you may not be certain that trees will speak to you, are you open to miracles?
Janet Hammock is a concert pianist and Professor Emeritus of music at Mount Allison University. She is a certified deep listening artist and teacher.