A tree fell in the forest, and many were there to hear it
This week a rotten tree fell hard in the forest. Many thousands were there to witness its undoing, but no one heard the crash. Not even the tree realized it had fallen.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
This question has always seemed naïve to me. It rests on a false premise. What privileged inquirer can so easily dismiss the plentitude of witnesses to every falling? Not least is the tree itself, the prime witness to its own collapse. The soil, the air, water and sun all are present to see and hear the piercing report of cracking timber and splintering branches, and to feel the thudding finality of the trunk’s landing on the forest floor.
The shrubs hear, and the grasses, the delicate blooms of newly opened flowers, the scurrying ants and beetles and myriad flying bugs, spiders pulled from their webs, tiny burrowing rodents and massive ungulates startled awake by the thunderous commotion, they all hear. And the spindly seedling offspring as well as the arboreal elders cry out with the pain of their fallen comrade.
Yes, a cloud of witnesses hears the roar of every falling tree. But they are silenced, ignored, and invisible to those who have never walked the forest floor, who have never rested beside an aging tree, who have never listened for voices not their own, who instead hide in the privilege of hearing what they want to hear. And of not hearing the plurality of witnesses always present wherever trees may fall.
Of course, the tree itself knows in its heart of hearts what is true. Regardless of who hears it.