I am sitting in a tree, a tall maple, whose leaves are preparing to leave. They have on their winter jackets of red, gold, and orange, drained of the chlorophyll that gave them a green pigment. I step tenderly on the thinner branches as I approach the top, where the more flexible limbs are brushing against the telephone line cutting between them. The branches shake with my movements, the browned seeds releasing their grip beneath the leaves and cascading slowly around me. Their wide plumes, like propellers, allow them to slowly descend through the air, spinning like helicopters as they fall through the myriad of limbs. Landing in the carpet of early-departed leaves, they fall to the earth. My hands hold the hardened bark as my feet rest in the nook where the branches stems from the trunk. Leaves and helicopters descend around me, shaken from their fragile holds by my disruption. I am a razor, gliding close along the surface, trimming away the dying hairs. As the shaved beard leaves a beautiful mess over the forest floor, the tight dark branches hold up the shattered remains of skinless limbs. The dead boughs, stripped of bark, fell away from the body, gone to atrophy as they hollowed out along the inside. The tree was going to sleep. It, like me, like you, like the chipmunk living inside the trunk, is on a cycle. We are not so different.
Last spring, as I wandered through the woods, taking in the bounty of life that was sprouting up from the freshly-thawed earth, my mind was distracted with the pronouns surrounding gender inequality. How “he” was one letter short of “she” in English, how all ‘men’ were created equal, and how, in Romantic languages, the default gender of a plural pronoun was masculine unless the group it pertained to consisted of entirely females. I recollected my third grade teacher redefining the denotation of a noun for my class with Schoolhouse Rock. She, as supplemented by the video, referred to a noun as a person,place, or thing–with plants and animals falling under the “thing” category. As I walked through the woods, where the trees and flowers were beginning to grow new buds, people were walking with their dogs, their tails flailing, tongues lolling as they were excited by the freshness of spring, I could not pair these “things” in the same category as listless rocks and the stagnant park bench. To me, those were “its”–”things,” “objects,” not life. They did not contain the sort of life that resonated between us, trees, and our four-legged friends. We were something else, something organic. Perhaps the line between “people” and “things” needed to be blurred? We were not so different from these organic things. The inequalities of gender in the specification of language could be erased by joining the organic things together under one pronoun–”ot.” Organic thing vs. inorganic thing–”it.” Life was sacred and the endless diversity of it need not be segregated. It’s were non-life. Ot’s were life.
As I am sitting in this tree, this fellow ot, I wonder what ot feels. Is this empathy a mirror or a window? Does this tree look at me, standing on ots arms and see an equal being of life or simply a razor shaving away ots dead leaves?