|Yore nation’s Christmas Tree,
For all to see,
Known not named General Sherman.
Your Tree is him
Of yore known then
Yea, Merlin Christos of the Wings,
He weaves the spell to join the Rings,
To change the course and State of Things:
Rejoice! He sings.
New birth and hope he brings,
To break the spell of crooked thoughts
Within the Well of Words ...
No one could have been more astonished than I to learn of the talking trees, and given my condition at the time, I assure you I was in no mood
to listen to what I initially concluded was a preposterous practical joke. I can recall the moment very clearly for some odd reason, although I am
not usually one who pays much attention to that sort of thing. I had been at home, in Irvine, California, for several days, lying flat on my back
in bed, slowly recovering from a case of blood poisoning. My right leg was propped up on a series of pillows and on my mind was my
godawful swollen right foot, which had become infected from the slightest pinprick I’d gotten walking barefoot in the back yard. It seemed like
such an insignificant scratch at the time, so I had ignored it, and as chance would have it, and because I also ignored the first signs of infection,
there I was with this painful, swollen extremity, taking anti-biotic medication and thoroughly disgusted with myself for being so careless and
stupid. In any case, as you may imagine, I was in a mood as black as charcoal briquettes, when the telephone rang on that eventful day early in
You can appreciate my reaction, then, when Gray Roper, from his office at Berkeley, began to recount the news of Peter Jesperson’s
discovery. As I listened morosely to Gray’s excited report about the tape of Big Tree talk, as I said, my reaction was to dismiss his account as
a clumsy practical joke intended at best to raise my spirits. Or perhaps Gray was simply telling me one of his tall tales, a literary aberration for
which he had lately become socially notorious. But, the thoughtful tone in Gray’s voice, once he had progressed to the midpoint of his
narrative, soon convinced me that he was, as it were, quite professionally serious. Even now, after all that has been said since those reports
began flowing from the crowd of experts at the hastily formed Center for Abstruse Arborial Phenomenon, I marvel at the seeming absurdity that
the Big Trees can speak! How could anyone have known? Who would have guessed? Nevertheless, on the afternoon of Gray’s call Professor
Leonid Gunderson and the entire staff of the Department of Linguistics at Berkeley were already feverishly wrestling with the preliminary
details of translation.
The next day, as Gray had hinted during our marathon telephone conversation the previous afternoon, the Los Angeles Times broke the story
on page one, in red banner headlines, above a full page color photograph of the discovery tree so oddly named Bog of Dawn Song. Jesperson’s
insect study, his microphones, the intention to tape insect calls, the breeze, all the details were there just as Gray had reported them to me on the
telephone. Then Gray phoned again. Though I confess I was still skeptical, I agreed to meet with the members of the hastily formed
committee at Berkeley who would later form the staff of the Institute for Interspecies Transliteration. To make a long story short, on the 25th
of May, I flew up to Berkeley. Jesperson and the linguistic staff were there--Krober, Bloomfield and the philology teams under Wooster and
Dowd. Such were the reputations of these men and so compelling was the evidence of the tape that my skepticism gradually withered. I was
forced to accept the fact that the big trees--somehow--could communicate with one another, and under specific circumstances with mankind
itself. How utterly weird...
For the general public, naturally, the story took a somewhat different turn. Following the Los Angeles Times account on the morning of the
twentieth of May, the wire services began to spread the news. Syndicated TV coverage that evening routed it through 64,000,000 American
households between 5:00 and 11:30 p.m. In the succeeding weeks a stunned and puzzled global audience clamored for additional information, as
the world awaited to learn the ‘message of the trees.’
In an unprecedented issue, National Geographic’s June edition contained only two pictorials: “The Improbable Talking Forests,” and “Sierra
Song Trees of the Dawn Redwoods.” Everywhere copies were off the shelves within minutes of delivery. Next, Newsweek published its
“LOOK” and Life ran the special, “The Trees with 10,000 Tongues.” Then came Andy Rooney’s 60 Minutes broadcast of July 4th, when
Rooney, dressed as a tree, held his symposium with a stalk of celery, two radishes and a turnip. Although the wit at the time struck an oddly
wooden note. The following week Johnny Carson’s notorious ‘Karnac the Magnificent’ conducted his humorous ‘telepathic conversation’ with
Bog, the discovery tree; but my world no longer seemed quite the same. A strange new reality was emerging from the roots of an older world
order, and we, all of us, had been subtly changed. What other surprises would there be? I confess I was vaguely apprehensive throughout the
unfolding drama of mankind’s first contact with alien forest creatures.
In the six months since Jesperson’s announcement of the discovery, now that the waves of disbelief have gradually diffused about the rocks of
prominent scientific observation and the testimony of recorded fact, the world has patiently awaited the impending publication of this document,
assured only with the truth so frequently reported that the Big Trees do speak. Here then, at last, is the Story of the Talking Trees, those
fabulous giants of the forest who not only think and talk, but also apparently do so in poetry. As one only recently has remarked,
The Time has come, the Log has said,
To speak of Trees and Kings,
Of clues and tips and deadly facts,
And whether deeds have wings.
P. T. Murphy
Poet of the Redwoods
Gray Roper's Narrative Forward
on Peter Jesperson's Discovery
I first met Peter Jesperson when he was an obscure but very promising graduate student in entomology at Humboldt State University. At the
time he had only recently begun what later would evolve into his now celebrated "Study of Insect Ecology in Leaf Systems of Sequoia
Gigantea." The occasion was a lecture on recent research concerning honey bee communications, given by Dr. Lawrence Stern, a student of
Von Frish, whose translations of honey bee language and the later bee dialects had fascinated students of my generation decades before.
Jesperson was about twenty-three years of age at the time, and like many students of his era wore his blond hair long to the shoulder. His blue
eyes were clear and bright, well set to the side of a prominent nose, and he peered intently at the world through Franklin style spectacles. His
beard was full and also blond, with a slight reddish tinge, and in general he exhibited that rumpled clothing style characteristic of graduate
students of the period.
Following Stern’s rousing and informative lecture, a number of the members of the audience, including Jesperson and yours truly, met for grog
at a nearby off-campus bistro, where we introduced ourselves prerequisite to wading headlong into frontal oscillations on the subject of insects
in general and female insects in particular. During these unabashedly informal proceedings I spoke with Jesperson at length. He seemed rather
shy and bookish until he launched the dark frigate of his fascination for insect reproductive behaviors. Of particular interest I recall were his
graphic comments on the mating habits of mosquitoes and his sizable store of data on insect genitalia. By the following year, however, he began
to take a more serious interest in less sensational aspects of the study of insects.
In the spring Jesperson had completed the necessary course work for his degree in biology with a specialty in entomology and was busily at
work acquiring his much deserved reputation for electronic snooping. That June, much to the relief of his fellow students and other members
of the staff, he brought to a fruitful conclusion his work on the assembly and experimentation of high frequency and sensitive sound detection
equipment he planned to use during the field work phase of a series of experiments for his doctoral thesis. (Although, it would be almost three
more years before he would receive funding and the necessary permission from federal and state wildlife and forestry officials.) What Jesperson
proposed to do was in a small way a scientific first for the study of insect behavior. His plan called for the location of supersensitive micro
phones to be located at forty foot intervals of elevation up the trunk of a 306 foot high Redwood Forest giant. Having wired the largest living
thing known to man, he could then record and later analyze the audible insect calls and sounds at various altitudes, to determine the ranges of
habitation of a host of parasitic insects, including mites and aphids, believed to inhabit and, in some cases, feed upon the highest reaches of the
Big Trees. Before Jesperson’s study, little was known of the effects of feeding insects and their distribution on living trees because the great
height of the Redwoods had proven a formidable barrier to careful and prolonged scientific investigation. Cutting one down was out of the
question. Not only is it illegal, but its remains would be quickly adopted as a comfortable hotel by numerous related insects who dwell on the
floor of the forest. Hence, one could not soon distinguish between old and new residents, thus invalidating one of the basic purposes of the
With most of the paperwork and red tape behind him, Jesperson learned at term break that he had been awarded a National Science Foundation
grant of $82,000.00 to finance the cost of the project. And his tape library was bulging with companion data--the calls, songs, and foraging
sounds of the target insect populations. His instruments had been honed to electronic perfection, including multi-directional sensing, computer
assisted identification, tabulation and plot ranging analysis. (His micro-phones were so sensitive that they could detect mandibular movements
(munching frequency) to roughly calculate feeding periods and rate.)
Finally, after several months of delay during which he wrote to say that he was engaged in furious inactivity, he received permission from
Archibald Grosvenor McLeash, then Superintendent of Giant Forest, Kings and Sequoia National Parks, to enter into a contractual agreement
with the State Forest Service, to undertake the project. Thus, in late April of the following year he took leave from his duties at the university,
spent two weeks with his parents in Visalia, California, and then at the family cabin at Eden Creek, not far from the town of Three Rivers, on
the slopes of the Western Sierras. When the snow pack at 7,000 feet began to clear, he moved the necessary baggage, supplies and equipment
into a small ranger cabin at Lodgepole Camp, on the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, four miles north of the Sequoia National Park hamlet in
Giant Forest. Although Jesperson has consistently refused to explain how he accomplished the placement of his microphones, by the first of
May his instruments were in place, and he began the taping which resulted in the incredible discovery that made his name so commonplace in
the households and hearts of America, indeed all over the globe.
THE DAY OF THE DISCOVERY
In his field notes, written later that evening, Jesperson reported that he had been taping the feeding sounds and calls of a tiny mite colony near
his microphone location at elevation 280 feet and was listening through headphones when he heard the muffling rush of air he had learned to
associate with the onset of a breeze. This sound, a local cavitation of the airstream, all too frequently heralded the cessation of his electronic
snooping operations, and sure enough, within seconds, a stiff breeze blowing through the tree tops blotted out all sounds emanating from the
feeding mite colony, thus rendering further recording pointless for the day. Grudgingly resigned to this pesky cause of loss of data, on impulse
Jesperson set the equipment to monitor all tracks, left the recorder running, and, covering the exposed instrumentation, returned to his camp
near Eden creek, intending to return after a supper of shepherd’s bread and warm beans.Fishing until six without luck, Jesperson ate his simple
meal in the cathedral splendor of the forest, surrounded by the Apostles whose undetected presence he would shortly make known to the
scholars at Berkeley and ultimately civilized society around the globe.
That evening, as the faithful recorder continued to monitor the tree zones at 40 foot intervals of elevation, Jesperson returned to the Big Tree in
the meadow. According to his field notes, it was near twilight, and the forest was still, except for the song of a lone Stellar Jay perched high in
the discovery tree. The final refrain of its song reverberated through the clear forest air as the backdrop of the night sky sparkled, brilliant with
the spectacle of the Milky Way. The time was 8:02 p.m. on the tape timing mechanism when Jesperson logged onto the computer and donned
the headphones to audit the tracks on the tape. When he hit track six, the frequency modulation sensors calibrated to detect and log the target
insect sounds locked onto the tape timer; the recorder reversed the tape as the digital real time clock raced back to 5:10 p.m. Jesperson then
depressed the tape forward key on the command console, and stepping back to light his pipe, looked up for some reason at the tree.
Through the headphones the first sound Jesperson heard was the song of a Stellar Jay. Seconds later, however, he heard the faintly rhythmic
syllables of what seemed to be a language he could not identify. Adjusting the volume control to a slightly higher setting, he soon stood in
stupefied amazement, listening to a peculiar susurrus murmuring in a pattern foreign though pleasingly melodic, through headphones now
pressed tightly with both hands to his ears. As Jesperson has reported on numerous occasions, it was a stunning personal as well as intellectual
experience, wondrous and transforming, uplifting and transcendent, miraculous and charged with ethereal power. He was simply overcome,
in a state of mental happiness and well being beyond the power of words to convey; several hours later, as the incredible significance of his
discovery seemed clear, he wrote that he felt acutely unworthy, humble and strangely dis-oriented by what had occurred.
Subsequent to Jesperson’s announcement of the discovery, events piled upon themselves in rapid succession in the following weeks. In the
news and on the nation’s newsstands, the world was bombarded daily with fresh accounts tabulating the progress toward eventual translation.
We learned that the trees speak only during an evening breeze, and of the irony of their pathetically tiny voices. We heard their language of
sighs and murmuring, so melodic, serene and contemplative, although as yet untranslated. And we marveled with the rest of the world when
Jesperson announced that Bill Jacobson’s staff at the Center for Abstruse Arboreal Phenomena had begun to translate the tape. Some idea of
the knotty problems they faced may be apprehended from reflecting upon the following brief sketch of Tree Lingo, the contours of which are
now generally well understood.
The philology teams under Harold P. Wooster and Edgar Dowd were the first to realize that there was no Big Tree language per se. Instead, the
trees employ human languages in a startling and complex way. The phonologist Van de Lavnic has been credited with the discovery of this
fact, for his transcription of Jesperson’s tape into international phonetic alphabet symbols revealed that phrases from Ancient Egyptian, Biblical
Aramaic, and Hittite appeared among the first four hundred words on the tape. Van de Lavnic’s work under E.A. Wallace Budge, late Keeper of
Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities in the British Museum, provided him with a slight edge over the rest of the scholarly pack. Analysis of the
completed transcription has since revealed that the tape contains a record--complex and symmetrical in form--of approximately 26,000 words in
3,500 lines, spoken in 298 distinct human languages, some now extinct, although curiously devoid of English. As recording continues, the
number of languages cataloged grows with each new tape. Because a detailed enumeration of the languages so far represented has been
published in numerous sources, including the American Philological Quarterly and Transcripts of Proceedings of the International
Linguistic Society, only the principal phyla or families will be mentioned here.
Five Indo-European families represent close to twenty-five percent of the words on Jesperson’s tape, including Anatolian, Armenian, Germanic,
Italic and Greek. Later tapes added Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian to the list. All three branches of Altaic--Turkic, Mongol and Manchu--are
also represented. (No Finno-Ugric yet.) North Caucasian (but not South) and the Dravidian group are sparsely represented; the Munda Family is
not. Nor is Malayo-Polynesian. Niger-Congo and Afro-Asiatic families make up fifteen percent. Otomanquian (Mixteco) sent one member as
did Mayan. Nearly fifty percent, the bulk of the central Cantos, is composed of words and phrases from North American Indian language
families: from Eskimo-Aleut, Athabaskan, Algonkian, Uto-Aztecan, Siouan, Iroquoian, Caddoan, Hokan, Penutian and the Mosan Group. As of
this writing, four of the fourteen trees now wired for recording have employed thirty-two separate languages. Six have spoken in at least
fifteen, and two trees estimated at over 3,000 years of age have spoken in over forty distinct tongues representing nine separate language
The form of the transcription taken from Jesperson’s tape exhibits yet another curious quality. It appears to have been deliberately organized
from both ends which serve as the borders to a central story or account that is elaborated upon by introductory and concluding blocks of
information. As Van de Lavnic has pointed out, the whole arrangement suggests a series of concentric rings like those revealed in the cross-cut
section of the trunk of a tree. No satisfactory scientific explanation has so far been advanced to explain how all this is possible. Nor shall one
be attempted here.
Perhaps strangest of all was the translation itself, as it emerged under the groans and labor of the scholarly teams at the Center for Interspecies
Transliteration. The general design of the document printed hereafter has been described variously as a play, an historical epic poem, a dramatic
mask, a religious story, a morality tale, an abstract interpretation of history, a chant, a conjure formula, an impossible mishmash of nightmare
proportions, and the Rubik’s Cube of Linguistic Dis-organization. On this note the reader is obviously obliged to form his own conclusions.
We come at last (those stalwart among you who have followed this forward to the bitter end) to that point in the story where the Big Trees will
have their say. While I for one do not believe they have judged us too harshly, in light of what we have returned to them, I take some comfort
from the signs of a growing concern and dedication on the part of people all over the globe who abhor the brutality, inhumanity and greed so
prevalent in our world. And I pray that, in some small way, this edition of the Songs of the Apostles will provide a source of comfort and
encouragement to those oppressed, weary, and frightened souls who nurture the spark of freedom and human dignity in the face of despotism
and tyranny, and that they will find the source of inspiration and love that I have discovered mirrored so eloquently in the words of our long
forgotten brothers and sisters--the trees.
I do not know how well and deep you are, nor whether you will find in the leaves of the Trees the seeds of their desperate attempt to
communicate a message of love. Though for me I can say that I have heard it, and I have found it filled with great beauty, pain and sacrifice,
and I will not walk the earth the same again. It is, however, not easy to read the Twelve Epistles of the Apostles, and one should not
undertake the journey through the ages and the songs as lightly as the casual reader who dabbles with the latest best seller just off the frothy
press of popular prose. Nevertheless, for those who seek the light of truth and who prefer clarity of vision in their literary fare, here is a
journey that will provide the diligent with sufficient reward for their labor. Those of us who were privileged to watch over the project of
translation have shared thousands of hours of the labor required to give flesh and form to the extraordinary message of the Big Trees. Yet, all
agree, at best this translation provides only a brief glimpse, as through a mist-covered window, into the fog-shrouded landscape of their alien
world view and vision. Thus, if here and there you find our labor as tangled as the roots and rot before the gate of love, we ask your
forgiveness and pray that you will continue. Since “All’s Well That Ends Well,” behold:
And you may see to find like me
His sign and meaning in a tree.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
December, in the year of the discovery
Prologue to The Tale of the Talking Trees
Although the specific location of the first tree that Jesperson wired for
data collection remains a zealously guarded secret among Forest Service
employees and staff (travel bureaus and vacation promotions increased
park attendance by 600% following the news of the discovery), it stands
in a cul-de-sac shaped like a flattened sock, some distance north and east
of Congress Grove. No trail passes near the area. Because it was remote
and rarely visited by tourists who flock to the groves during the summer
season, the site was perfect for the requirements of Jesperson’s study.
Neither he nor his equipment would be disturbed. Nearby, clustered in a
semicircle, were several imposing Redwood trees, estimates of whose
ages range from 1100 to 3400 years. Surrounding this stand appeared
numerous varieties of pine, a few incense cedars, and Aspens growing
close along a creek. The Redwood Jesperson wired stood away from the
main stand, in a meadow bordered by marsh marigolds and tall grasses.
The time was a few minutes before 4:00 in the afternoon, on the
twentieth of May.
ow mark ye well
this tale and tell
of him who breaks the spell.