With millions of years of being on earth, humans have lost interest in trees. The seeds they come from, the roots they put down, the branches they grow, the animals they shelter, all of it. People probably don’t even realize that trees are just like humans. They grow, they learn, and contrary to scientists, park-goers, and pretty much everyone else, they speak to each other, tell stories. Many people think that trees are just sticks of wood coming out of the ground. But I believe differently. I believe that humanity has not lost its wonder, that neither has nature.
I know this because the trees have told me.
On a particularly quiet day, maybe in the spring, right before the frost ends, or in the fall, when the branches seem barren, you can sit down and listen to the whispers of the tree. You have to lie perfectly still, and not do anything. After a couple of minutes, you hold your breath for a couple of seconds, and you hear the soft voices of the branches, the murmurs of the roots, and the melody of the trunk.
The stories I’ve heard from trees at Anderson Park would surprise anyone. From wars thinning out their visitors, to peacetime helping relationships thrive, to watching people first arrive when their parents are taking them on a walk in a stroller, to watching those same people arrive for the last time when their grandchildren are writing college essays and filling out applications under the shade.
One of my favorite stories, which I make them tell me frequently, is the story of Aria Maeve.
Aria Maeve was, by everyone’s best guess, Irish, but she was raised by an Italian family. No one seems to know who Aria Maeve’s parents are, because she was left one night in a large hollow in the big twisty tree, nestled between two paths. That night, someone had decided to take a walk just before dawn.
A teenage girl, no older than nineteen, lived down the street from Anderson Park. She had been going to the park ever since she and her family moved to town from Italy. As she strolled in the quiet of the night, the baby had started crying. It caught the attention of Gabriella, as they found out later the teenager was called.
After Gabriella took Aria home, bathed, and fed her, she started contacting everyone who lived in the area to see if someone was looking for their child.
Apparently, the search went on for months before she gave up.
She raised Aria as her own, taking her to Anderson Park every day for years.
One day, Aria came to the park by herself. It was dark, and no one was around. She took her blanket, cuddled up by the same tree in which she was found by Gabriella, and began to cry. She did this every day for almost a year.
Then, Gabriella got a call from her office, saying she needed to come in because there was an emergency. On her way there, she saw Aria at the tree. Gabriella came over and sat next to her.
“What’s wrong, la mia stella?” she asked her.
“All the kids in my school think I was left in a dumpster because I don’t look like you.”
After a while, Gabriella answered: “You weren’t left in a dumpster. You were left in a tree.” This visibly startled Aria. “Trees are the holiest thing in nature. They help us all the time, and they can be the reason you play, or the reason you hate. They can clear your head, or they can help fill it. You are one with nature, not those kids who have never found happiness in a park. To be one with nature is a beauty.”
“I remember the night so clearly. I heard a soft cry coming from this tree exactly. And when I took you out, the starlight reflected on your freckles, and a single raindrop from the day before fell down your forehead and onto your nose.”
After that night, they found out that the day Gabriella first found Aria, she had had a huge fight with her parents about a grade she got on a quiz. If she had not had that fight, she never would have found Aria, and Aria would probably have passed away that night.
If it had not been for that fight, the trees never would have seen her grow up, fall in and out of love, learn to climb the trees, swing from the branches, and go from the little 7-month-old they found there to the fully grown woman that left for college and continued to break barriers and to inspire others.
And so, if on a particularly quiet day, you sit down in complete silence, hold your breath for a couple of seconds, you might find yourself immersed in a tree’s story.
Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can tell stories.