Did you know that the trees are talking to each other via fungi “email?” Dr. Suzanne Simard uncovered a network of communication that trees use not only to let each other know how they are doing, but also to release and share some of their excess nutrients. In addition, they seem to be able to tell which of the other trees near them are related to them! The oldest trees in the forest have many connections through their roots to surrounding trees and appear to give an extra boost to their own seedlings.
Many practitioners of Earth-based spirituality incorporate communication with the natural world into their sacred work. This can include communicating with plants and wild animals. I’ve left pets out of this conversation because I think they deserve their own post! If we are going to engage in communication with wild beings, I think it’s best for it to be in a way that honors the Earth’s diversity and resources.
Part of my inspiration for this blog came from The Goddess Attainable’s post about talking to trees. In her writing, she describes her relationship with a particular tree. I hope I can meet a tree companion with whom I develop a long-standing friendship!
I did have an interesting experience with a dying ash tree in my local park. I’d walked by it for years, and for some reason felt it calling out to me earlier this year. I started sitting underneath it most day reading with my dog. My intention was one of mourning as I sensed its time was short, and I wanted to honor it by being at least one human who paid attention to it. Within a few weeks, the local Parks Department cut it down. I feel a sense of loss and emptiness going by the space where it was and have started trying to get my town to replant a new one.
Throughout human history, various groups of people have believed that humans can communicate with plants in a way that benefits their growth. I’m not aware of a scientific explanation for the sense of being able to communicate with plants, but, like the fungus tree root network, it’s possible it’s something we just haven’t yet uncovered. I have come across theories that if we engage in activities like singing to plants on a regular basis, we are releasing carbon dioxide which they can turn into oxygen, and we are subjecting them to small vibrations which could affect their growth patterns. Although I think my singing would cause most plants to curl up in fright!
When you happen upon a group of social wild animals, the squawking or chattering you hear might be much more than “Danger! Danger!” Research on prairie dogs suggests they can characterize us by features such as how tall we are, what colors we have on and how fast we are moving. Animals engage in complex communication with each other. Even wild animals are able to let us know what they are thinking.
Birds are one animal that has meaningful interactions with humans. I walked by one of my bushes in my yard and had a robin nearly barrel into me. This happened a few times before I investigated and discovered she’d made a nest with a little brightly colored egg right inside the bush. I tried to reassure her I wasn’t going to mess with it. She then made a habit for a little while of greeting me as I took my dog out first thing in the morning, giving me the side eye and coming up near me, so I think she got the message.
Not all wild animals are cute and cuddly. I met a coyote strolling by my house who was eying my Yorkie like a prized steak. I firmly told it that it wasn’t welcome to him. I was shocked when it stared right back at me and took its sweet time meandering down the sidewalk. We’ve encroached on animal habitat to the point where they look at us like “eh, yeah, you don’t scare me anymore.” The boldness in communication from the animals belies a stark reality of the negative impact of humans failing to recognize our impact on the environment.
To me, if we are going to spend time in communication with plants and animals, it’s best for it to be a two-way street, meaning we spend at least as much time or even more listening than we do speaking. We can check in with certain plant life and creatures on a regular basis, noting how the seasons and weather affect them. We can ask them what they want to share with us and practice gratitude for their presence. We can also honor their existence by engaging in sustainable, environmentally-friendly behaviors, and advocating for better treatment of our natural resources.
One aspect of this practice of speaking and listening with nature in which I want to grow my ability is to appreciate the richness of the biodiversity around me. For instance, my “talking” with insects is often to threaten to kill them. I don’t intend to start letting the mosquitos treat me like a banquet, but I do want to notice some of the bugs and vines that I might otherwise overlook.
When we tune into the natural world, it can be amazing to discover how much life the small patch of earth we call home contains. I find myself sometimes overwhelmed by where to start, so I’ve decided to choose a specific tree and a type of animal that I will be consistently observing for the next year in order to watch for patterns and changes. I think journaling each day regarding what I see is going to be quite revealing! I would love to hear about your experiences and observations.