I suspect I was a wild child. After reading Enid Blyton’s books, I renamed myself George after the lead character in her “Famous Five” series and insisted in fourth grade that everyone call me by that name. A third child, I was pretty much left on my own, and at an early age, I took to wandering the hills around my house. Later, the ridges would lead me to what we in our neighborhood called “the mountain,” Mount Tamalpais. I was small for eight, with short brown hair and a signature Giants baseball hat turned backward. I eschewed dresses and, to my mother’s horror, wore nothing but jeans.
Being alone most of the time, I started talking to trees, first the oaks, and later the redwoods in a fairy ring that grew in our yard. I still remember telling my parents that the trees answered, each in a different voice. When they chose to speak, the oaks did so with a sort of deep rumbling, the redwoods with something sounded more like a hum. I remember my parents laughingly asking me, “What did they say?”
I found that a silly question. “I don’t know as I can’t understand them,” I told them. “But I will.”
I still talk with the trees. I haven’t yet figured out what they say to me, but I know they listen. When I touch the bark of a tree, I hear something akin to sound.
As an adult, I fell for an enormous oak tree that grew near the wetlands on a trail I often walked. I know it to be an ancient tree as I have measured its circumference. I named it Grandfather Tree. I visited it almost every day, putting my hand on its rough bark, noticing its leaves and twisted branches, and observing what had recently slept beneath it. Until the morning of April 6, 2016, when I couldn’t get up off the bedroom floor. Crawling on my belly under coyote bushes, I had followed a trail to find my foxes’ den. I discovered their hideout in a pine tree, of all places, but the bad news was that I was bitten by a tick that carried Lyme disease during my search.
It would be months before I saw my tree again. I lost the use of my leg due to treatment for Lyme disease. After the rehab hospital and physical therapy, I began to walk, awkwardly. One day I left the wheelchair and walker behind and started toward my beloved tree. It took weeks for me to walk the mile there.
On the day I finally succeeded, I put my forehead against his ancient bark and wrapped my arms as far around Grandfather Tree’s trunk as they could go. I thanked my beloved friend for his inspiration and kindness. I felt an answer deep from his core, a rich bass resonating beneath my hands.