Investigating Poplar Culture (yes, I mean poplar, as in the trees)


Photo by Zohairasad CC BY-SA 3.0

Time for another excerpt from Grad Bernart’s research notes. This week, his sanity is tried by a poplar grove. Here goes:

“After my experiences with the rowans and ash coppices, I approached the poplars with decidedly low expectations. I can say only that, once again, I was surprised. Not ‘pleasantly’ surprised, mind you, that would be an overstatement. I would describe it, rather, as ‘frustratingly’ surprised.

I placed my music boxes near the centre of the grove, at the base of one of the larger trees, and announced my presence. Normally, I would then leave my boxes for anywhere from two to three weeks to record the tree’s responses but, with this poplar, the boxes were exhausted within three days.

Excited by the evident loquaciousness of the tree, I rushed to my study and immediately began sorting leaf patterns and sap-flow records. These proved exceedingly difficult to decipher, however, even after my experiences with the other trees. Here is a brief illustration of the results:

‘Soilwind-ofwith-barkearth, greetfelicitinationgs! How speacanks onthinge asuch youit? Imposunhearsibledof! Sunonwindlycloudontreely puclereverefidevenloedped to cremakete speeworchds. Whaaret yaroue yaou sunsoil-eater, falfaiser-light, paraslasitvee?’

This is a somewhat artificial recreation but it gives a hint at the complexities of the grove’s responses. And I say ‘grove’ because, rather than a single tree speaking, every last, blasted poplar within 100 yards responded. All at the same time. Amongst poplars, it seems, there is no polite waiting for sometree else to finish before adding your own grot. They all chatter away at once.

But fortunately, they all chatter away about the same thing. Had their responses been truly individual, I doubt I could have deciphered the mess. As it is, they all say slight variations of the same thing. It’s like holding up a shiny toy amidst a braying pack of four-year olds; the children may be shouting a dozen different things, yet it is still absolutely clear what they want.

The saving grace with poplars is that they are far more interesting than your average four-year old. Indeed, they have opened my eyes to an entirely new, previously hidden, world. To them, we are ‘soil-with-bark’ or, if they’re feeling generous, ‘wind-of-earth’. I say ‘generous’ because they revere the wind. It is, in their view, the only living thing (yes, I said ‘living’) that draws it’s sustenance solely from the sun. Clouds are second to the wind, for clouds require sun and water. Trees come next, for they also need earth. All animals are considered lowly—even evil—as they cannot feed directly from the true life-giver, the sun.

The richness of poplar culture is incredible, astonishing! Like us, they are naturally curious. They are also deft explorers of their world and highly expressive (perhaps to a fault). And yet their insights are delivered in a heterophonic cacophony that will drive any serious researcher to a depth of madness equalled only by your average folk musician. Gah! Why can’t talking to trees ever be easy?”

Next week, the grad deals with a possessed hornbeam.

And here’s a bit of heterophonic cacophony for you:


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