MARC: Do trees sleep?
SUSAN: That’s our question?!?
MARC: We have to at least start with it because it’s the card I drew.
SUSAN: Okay, go, Marc.
MARC: Ha ha! I thought the one who picks the card poses the question and then somebody else takes the first shot.
SUSAN: I didn’t know we had hard and fast rules.
MARC: Um, all right, I think trees sleep deeply for decades at a time. And they have fantastic dreams that are fed by the communication between the different plants that takes place continually under the surface of the ground. So they’re constantly exchanging messages with other wakeful and sleeping trees and plants. And while they’re sleeping, trees are in a mystic process of keeping the world alive, dreaming the world alive. When trees are wakeful, they’re a little more present to what is outside their bark, above ground. Like if I’m sitting in a tree and the tree is awake, the tree is more likely to be aware of me and relate to me. If the tree is sleeping, it’s preoccupied with very deep inner processes and thoughts.
SUSAN: Hmm. So you think that when trees are preoccupied with inner processes and thoughts, they’re asleep?
MARC: I would say it the other way around. I would say that when they’re asleep they’re preoccupied with inner processes and thoughts. But they could be preoccupied with inner processes and thoughts when they’re awake too. Like us, they have both an outer face and an inner face. I can be asleep and I’m preoccupied with inner processes and thoughts, but I’m also that way when I’m awake. It’s like my mom used to say, “You’re always asleep! You’re asleep when you’re awake and you’re asleep when you’re asleep! And you’re more awake when you’re asleep than when you’re awake!” She said that in anger, actually.
MARC: I made a song out of it.
MARC (singing): I’m more awake when I’m asleep than when I’m awake …
SUSAN: Well, I totally share your vision of what trees do but I don’t consider them asleep while they’re doing it. I feel they’re immersed in a different experience of time than we are. And it takes a tree a while to be fully aware, like if I’m in the tree or by the tree or sitting against the tree or whatever, it’s like a little gnat’s wing brushing against its skin. Their sense of time is so deep and so much longer than ours, and our movements are so quick compared to their rootedness. I could almost call it sleep. But instead I think of it as just a totally different sense of time.
MARC: So you don’t think they have that kind of binary relationship with sleep and waking that humans do? You think they have basically one mode, as opposed to a sleep state and a waking state?
SUSAN: Maybe. But I feel like there’s times when they don’t choose to meet us.
MARC: I don’t know what that means. They can’t go anywhere.
SUSAN: Well, obviously you’ve experienced a sense of communion with trees at times.
SUSAN: And I feel like there’s some times when they choose not to enter that.
MARC: Is that because they’re asleep?
SUSAN: I don’t think so. I think it’s just because they don’t want to be bothered.
MARC: Do you think they ever get annoyed with us?
SUSAN: Yeah! I do! There’s a tree I often visit near me and some days its presence feels so joyful and healing, and one day it just felt like it was really irritated. Not with me personally, but it just did not want me there.
MARC: Did you ever visit it again, and did you work it out and fix the relationship?
SUSAN: Yeah! It was like, that was just that one day, and that was past, and then things went on.
MARC: Oh good, I’m glad you reconciled. But again, back to the question. Do you think trees have distinctive sleep states versus waking states? Or do you think they just sometimes want to interact and sometimes don’t?
SUSAN: I guess if I had to say yes or no, I would say no, they don’t sleep.
MARC: Well, I’m going to be contrary and say yes. I think that when they sleep they just go REALLY deep within. And it’s not even so much that they’re irritated with us but they go into this state where they’re not even going to be conscious of us, because their attention is directed to something much deeper.
SUSAN: I totally agree with that. I’m just not sure I would call it sleep. I don’t want to anthropomorphize them.
MARC: Well, animals sleep too. It’s not just a human thing.
SUSAN: Okay, I don’t want to … uh … animalize them?
MARC: I was hoping you’d arrive at that verb. It was right on the tip of my tongue. Anyway … fair enough. There’s just a whole lot about trees that we haven’t any concept about. We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of the surface of the surface of understanding their peculiar — and, to us, alien — specie of sentience.
MARC: Wow. We’re making a heavy newsletter this time.
MARC: I think we have enough material. I’m going to stop the recording.
SUSAN: Okay, but include those last words you said: “Wow. A heavy newsletter.”