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Branching Out

A Bristol nonprofit talks to the trees


Published October 24, 2007 at 6:55 p.m.

Many Vermonters are aware that their physical environment is out of whack. Lake Champlain, for instance, is freezing much less frequently than it used to, and global warming threatens the state’s maple-syrup industry. Local ecosystems, you might say, are crying out for help.

Jonathan Corcoran and Bunny Daubner are listening — literally. Along with their friend Jennifer Vyhnak, these New Agers run the Bristol-based organization Call of the Trees. They claim, in no uncertain terms, to hear sacred messages from leafy trunks. Last year, Call of the Trees was instrumental in the release of an eponymous book about tree messaging by Dorothy Maclean, a spiritual guru from Washington State who spoke in Middlebury in 2002. Now, Call of the Trees is promoting a November 18 arbor-centric potluck celebration that will take place at the Libanus Lodge in Bristol.

On a recent afternoon, a reporter meets Corcoran, 53, and Dauber, 76, outside the Bristol Bakery on Main Street. Corcoran, a fit outdoorsman, jumps out from behind the wheel of his silver Volkswagen. Daubner, emerging from the back seat, is decked out in a purple turtleneck, teal jacket and white sneaks. If it weren’t for her gray locks and pendant that reads, War is not healthy for children and other living things, Daubner could pass for a substitute point guard on a church basketball team.

Maclean’s Call of the Trees reads like a Sunday hymn book, albeit one with a photosynthetic agenda. “I come in an instant,” Maclean writes in one chapter, channeling the voice of a bamboo tree. “I conjure in your mind an essence of the East, of what bamboo means to you, and then you realize . . . that I am Spirit, free and of God.”

But according to Maclean’s Vermont followers, tree messaging isn’t just for the mystically inclined. “People love trees,” Corcoran insists, pulling his car into the parking lot of a local wilderness area. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love trees . . . I think that’s the common ground.”

For this arboreal aficionado, whose day job is importing Italian glassware, tree communication is not a “religion”; it’s an “energetic sense of God.”

“Can I interject?” Daubner asks politely. “Dorothy Maclean is so practical, and grounded, and . . . she’s a Canadian. She’s not airy-fairy.”

“No, she’s not at all,” Corcoran agrees.

In their comments, Daubner and Corcoran appear to have no truck with the secular doomsday philosophy that can afflict contemporary environmental thinkers. As they stroll through fall foliage this afternoon, their chatter is more hopeful than despondent. “Nature is conscious and intelligent and is looking to cooperate and partner with humanity,” Corcoran asserts, as he passes a stand of bare cattails and yellowing beech. “This is a big message that underlies Dorothy’s work.”

“Nature is willing to help us renunciate what damage has been done,” adds Daubner.

There’s plenty of destruction out there to smooth over. According to the World Resources Institute, the world lost more than 7000 hectares of forest between 1990 and 2000 — an area the size of South Africa. “We’ve industrialized our relationship to the Earth,” Corcoran declares, stopping in his tracks for emphasis. “We see our relationship in terms of BTUs, or kilowatts, or board feet. I think what [the trees] are saying is that trees and forests perform a fundamental role in the stability of the planet.”

Not surprisingly, Call of the Trees boasts ties to a host of local and international pro-tree organizations. Corcoran himself serves on the board of Vermont Family Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization headquartered in Bristol. And Call of the Trees has dedicated its website in part to the Maryland-based Trees for the Future, a group that’s planted nearly 50 million trees in the developing world since 1988. Corcoran considers tropical tree-planting “the most powerful way to sequester carbon.”

Call of the Trees may extend into heady spiritual and political atmospheres, but its basic mission is pretty simple. “It’s just to get people out there and have an experience,” Corcoran says. That could explain why he and Daubner aren’t worried about finding the perfect tree to communicate with in this forest. “It really could be any large tree,” Corcoran admits, surveying a stand of amber-leafed maples. Of the November 18 event, he says, “Whatever your experience is, come share it in Bristol, whether it’s a dance or a song or feeling of peace.”

As if on cue, the woods fall into stunning silence, and a soft, pink sunset bathes a nearby pond. Corcoran and Daubner are smiling like kids in a schoolyard. “In modern life, we’re so cut off . . . “ Corcoran reflects in a hushed tone. “We’re all up here,” he laments, pointing to his head. “We’re tuned into 96.1, and it’s so frenetic . . . We need to tune into something deeper.”

“It’s a vibrational thing, really,” Daubner suggests. “And until we look at our own vibrations, we can’t tune into it.”

Then Corcoran begins to chatter excitedly. “These messages went out in the ’70s, but the planet has, whatever, we’ve evolved, we have globalization . . .” he says. “But we have the Internet, trade, everyone has been pulled into a global community—”

“And everyone,” inserts Daubner with a sagacious smile, “has been called to be a messenger.”