My daughter listens to trees. She always has. When her legs ceased to buckle and she could toddle freely about, she’d find her way across to the Silver Birch in the playground and hug it like she would my leg. I thought she was giving it a kiss, but then I saw her ear pressed to the peeling bark and I slowly came to understand.
She’s seven now and she can tell all the trees apart by their whispers. I humour her, taking her on trips to the botanic gardens so she can listen to the Cambridge Oak (“sounds like grandad!”) and the Holford Pine (“it’s calling to the pine cones, saying take care!”) and the sprightly Persian Ironwood (“I can’t make sense of it but it sounds like singing!”).
One day I made a mistake. I didn’t notice the parasitic mistletoe growing high up on the bare branches of her favourite Silver Birch. She came back in tears. “He’s dying, he’s afraid, and he’s alone,” she sobbed. I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was hug her like she did the trees, and listen to her rattling heart beating fast within its cage.
Christopher Walker is a writer and English teacher based in the South of Poland. His work can be found at www.closelyobserved.com.
Friday night in the suburbs, a small family puts their lone daughter to bed and sits down to watch some recorded television and pay the bills. My wife and I exchange silent looks. Remember when Fridays used to be fun? the look says. Out loud, she sighs, “I could really use a beach getaway.” Practicality being what it is, we can’t afford a long trip or the time off. The bills stare at me, gluey tongues mocking from windowed envelopes, tangible reminders of the cruel taskmaster named responsibility.
“Let me see what I can do,” I say. Life, it’s said, is for living.
We get going later on Saturday than I expect. There’s a stop for lunch, a stop at a department store for some beach towels and sunscreen, traffic on the highways. But the hotel is pleasant, overlooking the waves, even if the highway in between drowns the noise of the surf. We don’t get to the shore until almost five, but it’s summer and time is on our side.