When I was about fourteen, my younger brother and I were in our grandmother's yard when we discovered, on our own, the ability to actually feel emotions from trees! It was true. We compared notes on what we'd felt from each individual tree, and, although we used different wording to described what we'd experienced, it was clear we were in full agreement in each case.

Our technique was simple: Hug the tree like a person. Understand that it is alive, feeling you feel it. Sense the emotion from the tree, exactly as you would a person.

Interestingly, we found different trees in the yard had extremely different emotions, or combinations of emotions. Inner laughter, tears, worry, joy, tension, love, anger, even jealousy!

We had no theory as to why these feeling were there, or why they were differnt from tree to tree, until I hugged the single tree that grew beside the driveway. This tree was different from all the rest, in that it seemed totally scattered, with a little of everything and no "central theme." Why would this one tree be so different?

Then the answers came to me: The other trees seldom had people around them, but this one tree by the driveway had someone pass closely by it every time anyone came or left via the driveway, which was usually several times a day. Evidently, the trees were acting like sponges, soaking up emotions from the people near them. The driveway tree contained samples of emotion from all the various states of mind people were in as they left with specific plans, and returned with new sets of experiences. But the other trees seldom knew human contact, and only reflected the rare occasion when someone stood nearby them, radiating their single, steady state of mind to the tree.

Later, my brother tried to sense feelings from a well-used pair of plyers in the toolbox, and got nothing at all. We soon concluded that only living things can exchange emotions with other living things, such as humans and trees.

Tree and Moon

Winters in New England are long and unforgiving, nearly six months stretching from leaf fall to melting snow. In few places is this truer than in the rural hill country of north central Massachusetts, where my husband, Jorah, and I lived until the fall of 1998. On top of that densely wooded hill in the dark months of winter, the wildlife that lived around our cabin fought for survival, and we fed them as much and as often as we could. The large oak tree about five feet from our back door served as our main feeding station. The previous owner had nailed a platform to the tree about six feet up on which he'd pour a pile of bird seed, and he'd hung a suet-filled cage from another nail for the woodpeckers and nuthatches. Because we were busy, we followed suit, but as avowed lovers of trees, we hated the nails and resolved to do something better. I would make a pattern of the tree's contour and Jorah would craft a custom-fitting platform that needed no nails. But we never seemed to have the time, so the original platform stayed.

The kinds and numbers of birds that came to the feeding tree astounded and delighted us. We unpacked our field guides and watched. There were juncos and grackles and chickadees and jays; evening and rose-breasted grosbeaks; woodpeckers—downy and hairy; crows. They frequented this oak like the hot spot in town.

Long Tree

The chance to move to a place as isolated as our cabin thrilled me. Magically, I had been working to temper my fear of the woods and the beings I could feel there. Now maybe I could experience first hand what these beings were. Maybe I'd find out that they weren't as ghastly as I suspected them to be. I devoured books about devas and nature spirits, researched Findhorn and Perelandra. I was convinced that whatever my fear, I could move beyond it to contact the spirits of the land.

After living there for a month or two, I realized we were being watched, that odd sensation sneaking up on me so I'd have to turn and look. When I was alone at night, the feeling fairly screamed through the windows of the cabin. I knew they were out there—unseen beings, faces pressed against the screens, looking in at me, inhuman faces with sharp, cold eyes. I considered throwing open the door and inviting them all in, but the reality of meeting those beings face to face paralyzed me utterly. The oak feeding tree looked in too, a warmer presence.

That oak seemed such an ordinary tree—not like the tall white birch, shimmering in the path of the rising moon, or the cluster of weeping willows, trailing their melancholy boughs in Fish Brook. In our magical practice, we each aligned ourselves with a special tree, and we searched far afield for the one that drew us. But that solid, reassuring oak five feet from my back door grew in my heart.

One early June night, I stood at the kitchen sink doing dishes. The window over the sink was open and the night was cool and moonless. The tree leaned closer to the house. Its branches brushing the window, it glanced in. I caught the edge of a low whistle, almost a coo—a sound I'd never heard out there before. I crept to the back door, opened it a crack, and peered warily out. On the platform was a pair of eyes. Large eyes. Dark eyes, reflecting back the dim light of the hallway. I waved Jorah over and whispered, "Look." We opened the door slowly and the eyes vanished.

Next night, same scene. I'm washing dishes. I hear a coo-like whistle, soft and low. We ease out the door toward the eyes on the platform, which are joined by another pair of eyes, and another. We can't see a thing.

Jorah had brought a flashlight. We consulted back and forth about how we could get enough light on the eyes without frightening them away. He turned on the flashlight, muted by his shirt and pointed to the ground; the eyes disappeared in a flurry of squeaks.

The third night we were ready. We had the beginnings of a moon and a few more minutes of light. We loaded up the platform with bird seed and crouched in the fading light, swatting mosquitos and black flies, waiting. As the light waned and the wind stilled, we heard whistling in the woods off to our north. The whistling grew closer, louder, high up in the trees. As it approached the feeding tree, we heard the whooshing of things flying. A thud on the tree. A skittering down the trunk. The eyes were back on the platform.

We stayed still for quite some time. Our eyes adjusted to the dark, and we crept closer, little by little. The eyes on the platform remained calm, but we heard cautionary squeaks overhead. It was too dark to see anything. Consulting again, we turned on the flashlight, producing a rustle of alarm higher up the tree, but the eyes on the platform didn't waver. We moved the beam of light slowly, slowly, up the tree's trunk to focus, finally, on the platform. There, eating tiny handfuls of bird seed, was a delicate creature with enormous, limpid eyes, an elegant tail, and a cape of fur from wrist to ankle—a flying squirrel, standing defiant in the beam of our flashlight. We hardly knew what to do except to, quick, turn out the light, wanting this moment to remain the present as long as it would.

We were stunned at our good fortune. The only other place I'd seen a flying squirrel before was soaring past Bullwinkle J. Moose on Saturday afternoons. Nocturnal and shy, living in mature forests, these tiny squirrels rarely reveal themselves to human eyes, but once they had accepted us, they were curious, almost playful.

Winter Trees

The troupe of flying squirrels visited us at the feeding tree every night for the rest of the summer. As the nights got warmer, we'd sit out and watch them swoop in. I'd know if we'd forgotten to fill the platform for them. I'd hear a soft, insistent whistle, and I'd dash out with the seed, their brazen leader almost eating from my hand, my fear of the woods forgotten. One late summer evening, they came as usual, whistling and swooshing through the trees, ate their fill, and never returned, though we watched and waited for them.

The feeding tree continued to preside over us and the creatures who lived among its branches. Whenever it seemed we'd forgotten it, we'd hear the scritch of oak leaves on windows or a timpani of acorns bombarding our roof. Eventually the nails rusted and the platform fell down; we replaced it with hanging feeders. The nail holding the suet cage gave way too, the cage falling to the ground where the dog snatched it up greedily and ran away. We never did find it. Those beings I couldn't see leaning languidly on our window sills, staring from behind trees, still haunted me. Fear is a difficult thing to conquer; it must really be transformed. We've moved away from the oak feeding tree. I wish we could have taken it along. Does it miss us, or were we with it too short a time to make an impression? Does it look for our return like we watched for the squirrels? I wonder...

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