Communication and Signaling

There is a path from me to you that I am constantly looking for.”

– Rumi

Communication is a two-way path. As humans, we communicate with others to convey our thoughts, emotions, intentions, and information.  We use four basic types of communication to connect with others – verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual.  Verbal communication is spoken language. Non-verbal communication employs body language, gestures, and facial expressions, intentionally or unintentionally, to disclose and help others understand what we are thinking or feeling. Written communication, often in the form of e-mail or text message, can lack emotion and be assumptive or misunderstood.  In contrast, visual communication can be powerful in its presentation, evoking strong emotion and thought.  When we connect with others, we use a varied mix of these four types of communication.  Many of us show strength in one type of communication over another. 

Signaling is defined as transmitting information by means of a gesture, action or sound. Recently, I attended a youth league football game to watch a friend referee the game. The teams consisted of 9 year-old boys, top heavy with protective gear and still learning the game. The players moved painfully slow around the field, each play fraught with signals from the collective referees.  Hands gesturing, fingers pointing, and yellow flags flying – an exchange of signaling and responding which constitutes the game of football.  Without coordinated communication and signaling, organized sports, like football, basketball, and soccer, would be utter chaos. Ineffective or absent cell communication within living organisms results in cellular chaos, or uncontrolled cell division, that manifests disease. 

Cells signal each other to coordinate actions between multiple cells.  One cell signals and another responds.  Cells respond to change in their microenvironment and signaling plays a role in organismal development, tissue repair, and immunity.  Scientists have studied the two-way communication and signaling pathways between trees. This Intreenet or mycorrhizal network, is composed of the tangled web of the tree root system and the mycelium, the small, hair-like filaments of the fungal root system.  Together, the trees and fungus create an underground, interdependent, communication network that transfers water, nutrients, nitrogen, carbon, and biochemicals between organisms, influencing germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other trees within the stand.  Moreover, the Intreenet has an enormous capacity to heal, as mycorrhizal networks repair themselves quickly. Fungus and tree are so intertwined and dependent on each other; fungus relies on tree for carbon and tree relies on fungus for  nutrients and water.

Some trees have been identified as hub trees, or more lovingly referred to as mother trees.  Mother trees are the foundation of communication and signaling in the forest community. They provide opportunity for adaptation and resilience in recognizing and nurturing their own seedlings, sending them excess carbon to increase their viability and conveying messages of wisdom when they are injured, sick, or dying, biochemically signaling to their young to increase their resistance to stressors. Trees can exhibit crown shyness, a growth adaptation where canopy trees keep their leaves a respectful distance from each other.  Trees communicate above ground through the release of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that send a signal warning of danger. Trees can even communicate between species, like the birch and the fir. Communicating and signaling between each other, trees are keenly aware of their connection to others in their stand, their community, their “tree tribe.” They use the mycorrhizal network wisely and effectively to connect, support, and encourage growth, adaption, and resilience. 

As humans, how can we learn to communicate with the clarity, beauty, and positivity of the trees? How do we freely embrace all members of our community and encourage them to germinate, grow and reach for the sun? It begins with our connection. Our communication and signaling connection to ourselves and to each other.  Seedlings germinate and grow with their roots firmly attached to the mycorrhizal network.  They stand under the watchful eye of the mother trees and are nurtured, protected, and provided with what they need to grow and thrive.  We are also born into a family of origin, our stand of family, whose network may not be as integrated or resilient as that of the trees.  As children, the communication and signaling we receive from our caregivers and those in our family guides our development of personal boundaries, encourages us to find our voice, and promotes our sense of confidence and self.  

Perhaps our family of origin suffers wounds, trauma, dis-ease which damages or limits our communication and signaling, stunts our growth and makes it difficult for us to grow.  We find ourselves lost in the forest.

Fortunately, like the birch and the fir, we can receive communication and signaling from those other than our family of origin. We seek out, through our network, our stand of trees, or those in the community who will encourage us to root deeply and grow strong.  As we acknowledge to each other where we are from, we can take each other where we stand and communicate with the clarity, beauty, and positivity of the trees. We can love each other unconditionally  as we gently encourage each other to reach for the sun and mature to our best, authentic self.

Published by Sarah Croscutt

I am the owner and facilitator of From the Outside, LLC, a program that connects people to the natural world, themselves, and each other through plant and nature-based activity, promoting self-awareness, healing, wholeness, and community. In addition, I am an environmental writer with essays included in several anthologies published by Plants and Poetry Journal and Wild Roof Journal (online). I would love to connect here or on Instagram @sarahc_outside.

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