Book of Days: July 4, Talk to the Trees

My grandmother told me never to listen to the trees. She said it softly, seriously, as though it were an important lesson. My father would pat my shoulders, promise his mother we wouldn’t, and then remind me in the car ride home that grandma wasn’t always aware of the world and I shouldn’t let that bother me. I let the words brush by me, treating the warnings as though it were nothing. I didn’t learn, not until much later, that in this case at least, my grandmother was aware of a world most of us thought didn’t exist.

When I was thirteen, my girl scout troop went on a camping trip. There were twelve of us, plus three troop leaders (aka adults to keep an eye on us), and we went to a popular campsite. It was a place the girl scouts had been going for years, well known, safe and secure. My parents didn’t worry about us going. In fact, they were happy I was actually interested in being out in nature rather than in front of my computer. My grandmother, I think, would have taken my hand, held it in her own so I could feel her paper-thin and wrinkled skin beneath my palms, and warned me again not to listen to the trees.

I wouldn’t have heeded her warning, even if she’d still be alive to give it again. After all, I’d brushed it off all other times, why would I have listened that time? It wouldn’t have made a difference, I tell myself, though a part of my likes to think I would have felt the truth beneath her words, despite what my father had always said. Part of me likes to think that if the warning had been more recent, it would have been the first thing I brought to mind when I heard the voice of the forest.

Wind through the trees. That was what the supervisors told us it was. Enchanting, refreshing, invigorating, that was how they described it. Disturbing, unsettling, foreboding, that was what I would have picked. Wind through the trees was like whispers in the halls of the school, where you couldn’t understand what was being said, but you knew it was about you, and you knew it was nothing good. The forest talked around us with the voice of the mean girls, and even Katie, who had held that position at my school for years, seemed to feel it. For this one camping trip, she set aside the established hierarchy, because even she could tell it was us against the forest.

I never would have thought I could miss Katie. She wasn’t as bad as some people could be, but she’d made my school life worse than it had to be for no real reason. I’d often wished she would be transferred or her parents would move or something. I never would have wished for this, though. Never.

Twelve girls, three chaperones, that’s who went into the forest. We listened to the trees, we heard the voice of the forest, and we didn’t heed the instincts that told us to get out of there. Even with my grandmother’s warning, we didn’t listen, because I didn’t remember it in time to save everyone else. Two girls, one chaperone, that’s who got out. Even that, people tell me, was a blessing.

But I went back to my grandmother’s things, after I was released from the hospital. I went to learn everything I could, though it was far too late to make a difference, really. I found the picture of her in her girl scouts uniform. It’s beside my bed, reminding me, in a double frame that has a picture of me in mine.

It makes me wonder, what I will tell my granddaughter in the future. I hope, whenever I reach that point, I will be able to warn her properly, will have enough of my wits about me that my children will not tell her I’m not aware of the world any longer. I am more aware of it than they will ever know, and if I can, I will save her from knowing the same. I will do everything I can to keep her from hearing the voice of the forest and discovering what makes it.

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by | Jul 4, 2021

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