It’s hard to talk to trees. We’re not big on chitchat.
That’s not to say we can’t do amazing things, things you’ll probably never do.
Cradle downy owlets. Steady flimsy tree forts. Photosynthesize.
But talk to people? Not so much.
And just try to get a tree to tell a good joke.
Trees do talk to some folks, the ones we know we can trust. We talk to daredevil squirrels. We talk to hardworking worms. We talk to flashy butterflies and bashful moths.
Birds? They’re delightful. Frogs? Grumpy, but good-hearted. Snakes? Terrible gossips.
Trees? Never met a tree I didn’t like.
Well, okay. There’s that sycamore down at the corner. Yakkity-yakkity-yak, that one.
So do we ever talk to people? Actually talk, that most people-y of people skills?
Trees have a rather complicated relationship with people, after all. One minute you’re hugging us. The next minute you’re turning us into tables and tongue depressors.
Perhaps you’re wondering why the fact that trees talk wasn’t covered in science class, during those Mother Nature Is Our Friend lessons.
Don’t blame your teachers. They probably don’t know that trees can talk. Most people don’t.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself standing near a particularly friendly-looking tree on a particularly lucky-feeling day, it can’t hurt to listen up.
Trees can’t tell jokes.
But we can certainly tell stories.
And if all you hear is the whisper of leaves, don’t worry. Most trees are introverts at heart.
Name’s Red, by the way.
Maybe we’ve met? Oak tree near the elementary school? Big, but not too? Sweet shade in the summer, fine color in the fall?
I am proud to say that I’m a northern red oak, also known as Quercus rubra. Red oaks are one of the most common trees in North America. In my neighborhood alone, hundreds upon hundreds of us are weaving our roots into the soil like knitters on a mission.
I have ridged, reddish-gray bark; leathery leaves with pointed lobes; stubborn, searching roots; and, if I do say so myself, the best fall color on the street. “Red” doesn’t begin to do me justice. Come October, I look like I’m ablaze. It’s a miracle the fire department doesn’t try to hose me down every autumn.
You might be surprised to learn that all red oaks are named Red.
Likewise, all sugar maples are called Sugar. All junipers are called Juniper. And all boojum trees are called Boojum.
That’s how it is in tree world. We don’t need names to tell one another apart.
Imagine a classroom where every child is named Melvin. Imagine the poor teacher trying to take attendance each morning.
It’s a good thing trees don’t go to school.
Of course, there are exceptions to the name rule. Somewhere in Los Angeles there’s a palm tree who insists on being called Karma, but you know how Californians can be.
Text copyright © 2017 by Katherine Applegate
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Charles Santoso