The Old Oak Greg

by | JBE, Volume 1

  • Be extremely present.
  • Set inspiring music.
  • Set a positive intention. (“This is what I want to experience.”)
    • I will love to learn nature.
    • Nature is utterly genius beyond my understanding.
  • To relax, you may try to:
    • Listen to the music beforehand.
    • Meditate or do breathwork.
    • Observe nature.

I was a disobedient kid.

Back when growing up in the Midwest, breakfasts would usually get loud at the table. As the oldest and the brother of four, I used to sneak out of bed before sunlight dusted the meadow. Nothing felt as liberating as darting it through tall grass… Feeling the cold dew wet my skin. I would scream and wave from afar to my friend Greg. He awaited like clockwork on the outskirts of a broadleaf forest. We vanished together at six o’ clock. We would not return until early stars appeared.

Greg was an overgrown, over-aged oak. Curiosity would inherently propel me to ask questions about such truths. But Greg’s deep, brown eyes would survey me as if I had committed a crime against the enormous library of knowledge behind them, filled up with ages of memory. Greg once disclosed he had been around during the establishing of Columbus’ short-lived settlement, La Navidad, but he never spared a detail after. Was he wiser and older than the concept of time itself? He must have been.

Greg’s words seldom overcame the raw presence of a talking tree, which bestowed serenity on one’s inner struggles. His voice was remarkably penetrating. I remember it, for pines used to grow outside the house. Whenever their branches had bent in a passing wind, the cracking reminded me of Greg’s voice. But in truth, the oak never stole one’s privacy during their sleep. Not even skipped a river separating the meadow. Not even ventured beyond the edge of a forest that swept colors in fall.

Do you hear the music? Enjoy it for a while. 

We used to sit around a bonfire and talk. Listening to Greg was fearfully amusing. I laughed at each scattered opportunity when his name landed on a tray. The way he pronounced it – like an oblong Graaaag – made him sound like an old farting trunk. Or instead like Grog – which in my mind triggered an image of excessively sweetened pancakes.

Despite everything, I never casted laugh on Greg’s individuality. Nor did I raise doubts he was a talking oak. In fact, the idea of befriending a tree deeply resonated with me. At nights, the height of this achievement brought tears to my pillow. My soul had craved for befriending nature since I was born. It craved to let go of social constructs. To abandon the mortal realm. To transmogrify into a live dreamer.

We had our spot on a gorgeous clearing.

Greg often expressed regrets about foolishly ignoring nature to conquer happiness among stars. According to him, nirvana could not be attained by these ridiculous attempts of sending out rockets. But he always spoke with delicate prudence about such things… On each pause he emphasized the importance of communication.

He abounded with the Zen-like quality of not giving a damn. In other words, he let life flow. Trees, he said, were peaceful around-the-clock. The underground root system ensured a fast and reliable communication among them. With humans – not so much. But nature whispered, Greg said, broadcasting frequencies the way a radio does.

They communicated with each other; the dried leaf, the field horsetail, the uprooted dandelion, the guarding oak, the nut and the mossy grass, the river. The forest was a transmitter passing not only nutrients, but also warnings of uninvited guests. All these equations were happening without humans.

It seemed insanely exotic to a youngling like me.

Aloud I often ruminated, “You know – I thought – if nature senses danger and we sit here like plums by the fire… Aren’t we, by any means, ready for jam?”

Greg’s voice would tremble as he had begun to laugh, “Nature really does behave in a certain way when it senses a threat. But you, my friend, are definitely not on the list of accused.”

He then fixed his eyes on the sky as if seeing a magnificent dream and held forth, “You sit within a complex ecosystem. The wind scents the danger first. He rushes to inform the woodpeckers, who already expect the signal. The birds tap out the message to the trees, who then transport it underground. From there it travels through hills and valleys. Soon enough, about every root knows what is at stake. The ecosystem stands together, in one voice, safeguarded.”

It was like music to my ears. Sitting with Greg induced such a blissful state. You simply felt at peace. Nature was right here. In this reality. In your reality. The mystical spell of Mother Earth was in your reach. Although the music is swaying you ever so finely, it alone makes you scent only a small fraction of this. Although you are reading a story, you are inseparably also in the story. Pause and awake! Enjoy the moment. Greg and I are part of your experience. We are your consciousness. Bask in the music awhile.

With the help of flora and fungi, I mastered Greg’s ability to detect nature’s broadcasted waves. I transformed into a responsive radio station and communicated back. Greg taught well. I was a quick learner. We spoke about being aware of the present. We scrutinized the illusory layer of human character. The old oak introduced me to silence – how hidden truths arise in its company.

“Like rabbits poking from a burrow.”

As time progressed, the air got thicker of something transcendental. The meetings drastically reformed. It had begun as glimpsing a pair of eyes looking at me; or better, churning the back of my mind. They belonged to Greg.

His intimate stare quickly became charming, even possessive. Soon after, the oak and I would gaze at each other’s eyes. The mesmerizing silence first lasted ten minutes. Then hours. Until come rain or shine, we sat at the gorgeous clearing without uttering a word the entire day. Like two absorbed lovers. We developed an unshakable bond.

“I see a Pocket Universe in there,” claimed he once.

And we both never faltered in this game of raptness.

We could sit there for eternity and be fascinated.

We still adjoined at six o’ clock. But no longer had I come running. I danced through the morning dew like a ballerina. My soul hovered above it, light as a feather. No longer I screamed, waved, nor exalted. The last time I had questioned anything from Greg’s past was months ago. We got used to hearing each other’s voices less. Silence was our common melody.

But over time, the old oak’s eyes were growing dim. There had once flickered a spark… It almost faded away. His presence of mind was entering deeper and deeper trance states, as if Greg was not to return from the farthest points of voyage. The oak’s leaves were withering, but we kept gazing on each other in mutual admiration, more alive than ever. Every moment felt like we were seeing existence for the first time. The harmony between us overcame all fears and borders.

We did not speak a word the entire fall.

Winter came. Dew froze, and I waded through ice that shattered upon touch. Greg no longer arrived at the outskirt like he had used to. Every morning I found him on the clearing buried under drifts of snow. The bone-chilling nights of December purloined Greg’s once quick-witted sense… We hardly made eye contact anymore. I frequently placed my head against his bark to hear a heartbeat. But the lifeforce was too shallow.

Barely did I, one day, overhear Greg proclaim that he had been a teacher when I had needed him the most. Everything was fine, he said, because all gifts had been given and I had been a good student. We were one reality.

“I have shown you a dream,” he told me. “Protect the seedling of tomorrow, for now you carry the torch.”

After years of time, I still come to visit the gorgeous clearing. Although Greg’s eyes have plunged into bark long ago, I greet him with awe whenever his majestic crown rustles in the wind. He knows about my presence. There are connections that endure even the test of time. To say a tree’s aliveness depends on its ability to speak vastly limits one’s understanding of nature. Greg’s life is more akin to the forest’s soul. His appearance is just the physical symbol of that soul, but like a soul in the body, his life is not in one place. It permeates through the entire ecosystem.

You can have your Greg, too.

Go out – go make friends with trees. They are open to it and more than willing to answer your call. This is what Greg has taught me. Develop an intimate bond with them.