by Christopher Walker
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.