yelling at trees*

In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it. (Can’t lay my hands on the article, but I swear I read it.) Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Ah, those poor nave innocents. Such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive. Too bad thay don’t have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind.

Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I’ve been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.

Man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines–especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling.

Don’t know what good it does. Machines and things just sit there. Even kicking doesn’t always help. As for people, well, the Solomon Islanders may have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts


moral: could it be that yelling kills a relationship? Like that of the villagers on the Soloman Islands whom killed trees by shouting at them. Sure, this might not be true, but the point is well taken.



zen poet Ryokan 1758-1831

You stop to point at the moon in the sky,
but the finger’s blind unless the moon is shining.

One moon, one careless finger pointing –
are these two things or one?

The question is a pointer guiding
a novice from ignorance thick as fog.

Look deeper. The mystery calls and calls:
No moon, no finger — nothing there at all.



have a peaceful day


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8 thoughts on “yelling at trees*

  1. I agree yelling kills I die a little each time I am yelled at and it makes me careful of who I raise my voice too. Life is difficult enough …rather whisper kindly that raise your voice in anger xx

  2. First to the poem as that’s particularly impressive! This is for me a classic zen-topic poem with a layer of mystery over a foundation of truth. And beautiflly crafted.

    As far as yelling at trees, that may be more legend than fact. Most trees put down pretty deep roots and death by itself has little immediate impact on the tree’s posture. I would also think that rather than yelling for 30 straight days, it would make sense to chop away at it — I don’t think there are any trees in the Solomon Islands that an axeman couldn’t fell in a single day’s work. I would guess the ifil tree is a prime candidate for chopping down (great wood — “state” tree of Guam) and I don’t think they would be particularly challenging to chop down.

    But though the practical nature of this may be cause for questions, there is some evidence that human emotions can affect the well-being of plants — maybe at most slightly slow down or speed up the growth — but still something of note. The impact that humans have on the well-being of dogs, cats, etc. is particularly clear. I don’t think it’s very constructive to yell at animals. That said all emotions have a time and place — for people to yell when explanation would be better, is often a case of anger getting the better of them. Best for all of us to not yell unless trying to be heard over a great distance or against something very loud. I have yelled many times to be heard over a dance band. Nowadays, I could just write something down on the closest electronic device……

    Excellent post!

  3. Truly, art, we can never HEAR heaven and nature sing if we are always SHOUTING! Maybe, just maybe, we are actually shouting at some part of ourselves we imagine has gone almost deaf and dumb? Thank you so much, once again, oh wise Art!

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