My Tree Teacher
Updated: Nov 6
The summer sun is spectacular, emanating the kind of light that makes me want to rip off all my clothes to let my skin drink in its glowing warmth. A sweet gentle breeze, just strong enough to muss my hair, takes the edge off the heat. Magpies chatter, defending their territories as I stroll aimlessly through Treasury Gardens in Melbourne. The grass is so soft and inviting I jettison my shoes and venture off the paved pathway. The cool lawn tickles the soles of my bare feet and I immediately connect to nature.
My communing is abruptly ruined. I pivot to see who is so rudely interrupting my reverie. I see no one. But I had heard it as clear as day—some guy trying to get my attention. Am I being reprimanded for walking on the grass?
"Oi!" the traditional Aussie greeting rings out again.
I spin around, extending my gaze. Usually when a strange voice says, “Oi!” it is someone looking for loose change or a spare smoke. But this time the inflection isn’t off-putting; it has the tone of a friend being cheeky to get my attention.
“Oi!” he calls out again.
Ok, what’s going on? Is someone hiding behind a tree taunting me? I peer in the direction of the call. No one. I scrutinise the park to my right. Fig trees, a fountain, long grassy lawns, but no people. I glare left back along the way I’d travelled; no one.
My breathing becomes shallow, my muscles began to tighten. I feel a growing uneasiness; fear mixed with confusion. I heard a voice, a clear voice, a male voice. Where is he? Who is this? What does he want?
The call comes again, “OI! YOU!”
I stop in my tracks, and whirl around to find the person barking at me. Nothing left, nothing right, the voice seems to emanate from directly in front of me. The only thing in front of me is an elm tree.
I stare at the elm tree. It is quite a specular specimen. I calm myself, take a breath and connect with the earth under my feet. Wham! Reaching into my very soul, a tractor beam of sensation pulls my focus to this tree. Goosebumps rise on my arms. The elm tree is staring into me. We lock eyes. (Can you lock eyes with a tree?) Excitement mixes with desire. It is the familiar sensation of meeting a soul mate. Currents of unconditional love and deep knowing surge between us. This tree and I.
While I am experiencing this soul connection, the scene changes. What has until now been a regular elm tree in the park, is now a carnival of tiny sparkling lights dancing through its branches and leaves. This is not a trick of the sun, this is not an infestation of fireflies. The tree is shining. It is emitting light, and glowing as if lit from the inside.
Out loud, I ask the tree, “Was that you?”
The answer comes as a distinct voice, yet inside my head, “Yes, you can see me, I can see you.”
I’ve been a site-whispering shaman for over 30 years, so I’ve seen a few magical things. I communicate with all sorts of entities and ancestors. I’ve developed an intricate and delicate process of opening my senses to spiritual communication. This conversation is not like any regular spirit chat. I didn’t initiate this connection, the tree did. This communication isn’t requiring any special sensitive tuning on my part. It feels ordinary. Standing barefooted in the park, I am having a seemingly normal conversation, albeit telepathically with an elm tree.
We exchange greetings. Corny as it is, he says, “I’ve seen you here before.” I laugh; is this a pick-up line from a tree?
He says that I should call him Tim.
What? Tim? That feels way too human and common. He interjects, “I’ve always liked that name.”
Carrying on this somewhat flirtatious banter I ask, “Do you talk to lots of humans?”
He replies, “I do but no one has answered back in a long time. I always try though. One person did reply some time ago but they haven’t come back.”
Our initial conversation continues and he invites me to come closer and make physical contact… so we ‘can get to know one another better.’ I come close and give him a hug. Immediately I dissolve into his form; drawn into the body of Tim. My senses shift. I become tall. I feel connected to the whole park. This sensitivity to all the living beings of the park extends in all directions. I simultaneously feel the dry warmth of the sun and the cool moisture of the earth. Connecting with Tim in this way is an intimate sharing of what it feels like to be a tree. I imagine he’s feeling what it’s like to be me.
It has now been close to three years since our initial meeting on that summer day in 2018.
During the first two years Tim maintained a teacher / student relationship with me. He taught me about living as a tree across all the seasons of the year.
In the spring I learned that Tim is cosexual. For Tim’s species of elm, sex exists beyond the binary of female and male. His flowers are protogynous, meaning that they are able to change their sex at a certain point in the year. In our chat about his gender fluidity he said, “It’s too difficult to explain, go look it up.” Cheeky elm!
He calls me to the park when the timing is right to teach me something about tree life. (Tim explained to me how he found me in my apartment two kilometers away through the mycelium network… but that’s a story for another time.) He has taught me to photosynthesise. He educated me in ways to get more nourishment from every sip of water. He trained me to communicate as trees do.
Over this past year, our relationship has shifted from teacher / student into a beautiful friendship. Tim cares for me as a friend would. He can draw out my sadness and dispel my loneliness. Often he pours joy and love into me.
I knew that the dynamics of our relationship were shifting when he started to ask me questions. His curiosity is boundless and his questioning often goes on for months. Some questions are simple. “What is a kitchen?” He has heard people mention this and has a vague idea but wants to know more about this place.
He asks a lot about cars. “Where do they come from? Why don't I feel a living consciousness? Is there a biological connection with the person inside?” He was astonished to learn that humans make them just to get from place to place. It continues to be a real challenge to try and explain the emotional connections some of us have with our cars. I can’t even begin to tell you how humourous it is to try and explain sports cars, SUVs, and limousines (there are lots of weddings in the park). The human connection to cars is a topic he returns to again and again.
He is also curious about mobile phones. “They appeared with humans quite recently and they seem to strongly influence people’s emotions.” He feels that our use of wireless communication is very similar to the mycelium network he uses to communicate with all the trees in the park.
Tim is my friend and sometimes I talk about things ‘my friend Tim’ has said without disclosing his species. Not everyone can roll with the idea of me talking to a tree.
On this particular Saturday I visit Tim and he is confused and concerned. It's because of COVID. Tim lives in what is normally a busy city park, so when I visit him on this deserted, locked-down Saturday, he asks, “Okay, what's happening? It’s the weekend, there's nobody here and those that are here are filled with fear.”
I do my best to unravel what we know about the virus and lockdown strategies. He asks why people aren’t healing themselves with sunlight, fresh air and water. I try to explain but he remains profoundly confused.
Tim sees his role in this park as helping people. Throughout this COVID time Tim has been offering many helpful suggestions for people to deal with this situation.
For my ‘allowed hour of exercise’ during one of the many Melbourne lockdowns, I walked to the park to visit with Tim (He doesn’t have to wear a mask.). I began to video some of our chats for Facebook Live posts. In over a dozen live posts, Tim offers very specific recipes and tools to deal with isolation, excess anxiety and ways to strengthen our immune systems. These posts are quite popular and we receive many comments thanking Tim for his wisdom.
Today when I arrive, Tim asks me, “Do you like my leaves? I’m pretty proud of them.” Tim is a Golden Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’). Look up his species and you will see why he is so proud of his leaf canopy.
I ask him, "What do you do on these quiet days when there are no people?"
He replies, “When I don't have to be focused on other people or on giving energy to other things, I can just be. I love simply being still and ‘shining’.”
“Shining?” I ask him to explain.
Out comes my mobile, on goes the Facebook Live stream and Tim takes over. He exhorts us to use these strange and difficult pandemic days to practice simply being.
“Be still and shine. When it's quiet, I stand and I focus on just being me, on just being a tree. I feel the sun, the earth and me all mixing together.”
Tim takes me and our Facebook audience through the exercise: “Stand still, connect into the ground and connect to the sun, and then from inside, be 100% you, then a bit more you, 120% you, and then even more you, 150%. Be radiant and expansive.
While we are all practicing ‘shining’ Tim continues with a bit of side-coaching, “When you are still, and you're completely connecting to your unique self, you shine, you radiate an incredible amount of love. Watch me." It is exactly what he did on that first day we met. Along with his visual shine, the most beautiful sensations of acceptance and love emanate from Tim in tingling waves of unconditional love.
Now it’s my turn. Tim helps me to be still, to be 100% of who I am and accept that I am beautiful and loving. I realise in this moment I can choose to shine and radiate love. At 100% I feel confident and secure. At 120% I feel powerful, generous and grateful. At 150% feelings of expansiveness mix with connection and then boom; ripples of love burst out from me in every direction. This is all coming from a seemingly inexhaustible internal source of magic. It feels wonderful. It is delicious to just be me, in my full radiance.
As a bonus, he invites me to stand with my back against his trunk. As we merge bodies; we ‘shine’ together. It is a profound experience. All time and sensation vanish as we become a pure radiant shimmering energy of love.
Tim brakes this moment of reverie saying, “Hey, before I forget, the reason I called you down here is that there is something here for you to eat.”
I do my best to switch channels back to ordinary reality. What can I eat from a public park?
Tim perceives my confusion, “Over there. Walk toward the fig trees.”
I stumble in that direction while still telepathically chatting with Tim , “I can’t eat those little figs, those are a different kind of ...” And then I see them, generous patches of large field mushrooms poking up around the roots of the nearby fig trees.
I greet the mushrooms, ask if I might have some to eat, offer a prayer of thanks, and scoop up some of the beautiful mushrooms. I’ve been taught that when wild harvesting, never take the first or the last, and only harvest half.
When I get home I share my delicious harvest with my next-door neighbour. The flavour is a cross between a Portobello and a Swiss Brown; delicious sautéed in butter. I have a lovely side dish for dinner, mushroom tacos for lunch, and a final mushroom omelet for breakfast.
What a friend, teaching me to shine with him and then providing dinner!
Behind the scenes:
I wrote the first draft of this story at home and then took it to read the draft to Tim for his comments.
As soon as I started to read he chimed in with suggestions.
I paused and said, “Don’t you want to hear the whole thing first?”
“No, I was here for the whole thing. Carry on.”
Not only did he have suggestions and corrections, “I don’t think that is exactly what I said.” He also suggested ways to edit the story.