Our yard backs up to a small creek about a 100 yards or so from the back of our house. It’s all woods with a mixture of hardwoods including red oak, white oak, tulip poplar, maple, hickory and other trees. It’s all down a grade that results in a quiet and secluded bottom land through which the creek flows. Some years ago a large old oak fell down during a storm and as it fell it landed over the creek.

I have gone down for years with the grandchildren. I call it “The Listening Tree”. When the grandchildren were little I would help them shinny across the tree and then sit on the tree somewhere half way across the creek. As they got bigger I taught them to walk across the tree on their own, an act requiring more skill and balance. I taught the grandchildren a game which included sitting quietly on the tree, listening to the little creek gurgle as the water flows over the rocks. As we sit on the listening tree we are invited to listen to the forest and see if a story emerges; if it does someone tells the story and the others in the group listen. We listen to the woods and we listen to one another. Of course, I almost always have a good story to tell. My intent is to teach the children to listen to nature and to appreciate the amazing sounds the forest gives up and to be able to use their imagination and become good story tellers.

The woods can make amazing sounds, if we take the time to listen. When the wind blows trees will rub against one another or creak in the wind. In the fall the sound of leaves falling can sound amazing as if there is an avalanche of leaves falling to the ground. Of course the music of the birds singing can be beautiful too. The grandchildren have all loved the Listening Tree and each hears or shares in keeping with their own personality and interest level. Frequently, whenever they come over they ask “Pop, can we go down to the Listening Tree?” I am always delighted and I always go with them no matter how tired or beat I feel. This past week I went down with a couple of the grandkids and I was absolutely thrilled to see some of the Jack-in-the-Pulpits I’d planted years and years ago coming up and spreading.

We all need a “listening tree” in our life; a place where we go to sit and listen, a place where we go to be quiet and listen not just to the external but the internal sounds within us as well. We live in too busy of a world, a world to rushed, a world too noisy to sometimes hear the sounds that really matter and to sit still and be calm. We need to develop within ourselves that wonderful gift called imagination and to become story tellers, each with our own accent and our own way of speaking. I invite you to find, to keep and go down to your own listening tree from time to time. Tell me the sounds you hear and the stories that emerge.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10