Last week, in a charming story for the Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance reported that the citizens of Melbourne, Australia, have been sending fan mail to their trees. Yes, people are emailing trees—and once in a while, the trees are emailing back. (“Hello,” wrote one willow peppermint, “I am not a Mr. or a Mrs., as I have what’s called perfect flowers that include both genders in my flower structure.”)
There’s nothing magical about Melbourne’s interspecies correspondence: it’s the unexpected result of a city project that assigned email addresses to individual trees so that citizens could report safety hazards. But it made me wonder. What if trees really did have inboxes?
If I could, I’d email the Ashbrittle Yew to ask who built Stonehenge, and how. I’d ask the Major Oak, in Sherwood Forest, if Robin Hood’s aim was as good as advertised. I’d ask Hyperion for directions to itself, and I’d ask Luna what it really thought of Julia Butterfly Hill. (I assume that coast redwoods, like willow peppermints, are neither Mr. nor Mrs., but I’d ask about preferred pronouns.) I’d ask all the moon trees how they liked the trip.
I’d ask the ancient olive of Ano Vouves, Crete, what it had to say about Greece and the European Union—and about the last 3,000 or so years of Western civilization. I’d ask the Antarctic beeches of Australia if they planned to move back to Antarctica. I’d ask Bahrain’s Tree of Life for drought survival tips, and I’d ask the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi to share a bit of its wisdom.
I’d ask the half-dozen ginkgo trees that survived Hiroshima and live on today, less than a mile from Ground Zero, how they did it. I’d thank the horse chestnut that grew outside Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, and gave her hope until her capture. As for this tree, which still stands on the killing fields of Cambodia, I wouldn’t know where to start. And I wouldn’t blame it for not responding.
Then there are all the trees with no Wikipedia entries, and no informative plaques; the trees famous only to their neighbors, their climbers, their pickers, their shade-sharers. I like to think about what I’d ask these trees if they had inboxes, but maybe I don’t need to. For we’ve been in conversation with them all our lives.
Top photo, of coast redwoods in California, by Flickr user Kirt Edblom. Creative Commons.