True Story?

The following story is true.  This incident really happened.

When hiking far out into the forests along the Blue Ridge Mountains, I stopped to rest and eat lunch on a large mossy boulder.  The view was amazing, with the beauty of the green mountains and valleys stretching to the far horizon.

As I sat there in silence, I heard a voice.  Looking around, there was no one there.  A few moments later, I distinctly heard a voice, but it didn’t sound quite human.  I could understand a few words that seemed to say, “I’m here.”  Still not seeing anyone, and feeling some fear, I grabbed my pack and started to leave.  Just then, the voice said, “No fear; I’m here.”

I stepped back, disbelieving my eyes and ears.  The voice appeared to be coming from an old Balsam Fir tree whose roots were touching the boulder I stood on!  This couldn’t be!

A breeze carried more words to me.  Stunned, I dropped my pack to listen intently as the tree told me many things, stories of the woods, the mountains and the humans who never stopped to listen.  The old tree told me secrets and made me promise not to repeat them.  She (her voice sounded feminine) told me I was special and she had chosen me to speak her wisdom to.

Then, a branch gently wrapped around and lifted me high up in the tree!  A frightening yet oddly peaceful feeling came over me.  Birds and squirrels sat close and even perched on my arms and legs.  They too seemed to be entranced by the voice of the tree.

After what seemed to be hours but were only minutes, even moments, I found myself back down the trail by my car.  I have no memory of how I got back.

My whole life has been transformed!  I’ll never be the same!

I know I’ve been chosen to write this story and the words of The Tree.  Someday I may be able, or allowed, to share some of the secrets I heard that day.  I may still hear the voice of The Tree speaking to me at times, so I’m sure there will be more stories and lessons to tell.

No doubt, it will be very hard for some to believe my story, that I was a witness to something extraordinary.  Yet, I would urge you to think of the World’s Religions, how they started … the Roots of Religion.  Consider the first person to have an amazing experience or encounter of something or someone marvelous in a wild place … desert, mountain, forest.  They told their stories, others believed, and over time whole communities were formed, scriptures and creeds were written.  The world was changed forever.

The story you have read here today is true (if you believe it).  It really happened (if you choose to accept it).

If you believe, let me know.  Tell me why you believe it, why you would believe me.  Then I may tell you some secrets only believers can hear, only we can know.

If you don’t believe, tell me.  Explain why you wouldn’t believe my story, why you choose not to believe me.

If you are a person of faith, who believes in one ancient story of a remarkable person who spoke of amazing experiences, who told stories and gave lessons of life, why would you believe them, and not me?

Whether you believe or not, The Tree is reaching out to touch you too. 

(image: actual photo from a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains–believe me!)

Categories: Storytelling, UncategorizedTags: , , , , ,


  1. When a respected colleague like you Chris, reports such an “unbelievable” mystical experience as this, it always puts a scientist and psychologist like me into a quandary. I trust you words generally and so it is very difficult to distrust your story but I do. I have many mystical friends who have told me about very rare and chance events so “unnaturally natural” in the woods that I think it must be common. One of my psychologist close friends became a Islamic follower because he had a very friendly bird come into his life while reading the Koran on a mountain… what if it had been the Bible. He would have become a Christian of course.

    Your story for me is best explained as an experimental trick you are playing on us like a nudge experiment done by Daniel Khanemann or other famous cognitive researchers about how we become believers in even very incredulous events. I agree that most of the early prophets, sages and founders of religions had events just like your story, e.g. Zarathustra, Moses, Buddha, and the thousands of mystic followers for the ages. Many were food deprived, exhausted, at high elevation or even on soma and other herb based drugs. So I am a skeptic, but if it is true I will ask for context and look for a change in brain state or possibly even a dream you awoke to. My guess is that you are setting up a situation to test your audience about what they will trust and if they believe one of the above, why not you.

    If it indeed really did happen and this is not a test, then I would like to question your brain state ( the scientist in me) and what really changed for you. e.g did you become a follower of the Tree God, you named Arbolus sui Generis. A one of a kind tree, the one and only Tree deity on earth. Since you have never spoken of this before and yourself are a skeptic to a point I think it is an interesting test for your readers. Why did you write about this now?

    • Well, Marty, I knew I’d stir up some skepticism! Your chaplain intuitions are correct. The title, stated as a question, “True Story?,” kinda gives it away. You are correct, of course, I indeed am nudging more critical thinking about the “roots” of religion.

      And your response about questioning my “brain state” seems exactly the response a freethinker would make. Asking what changed me, why only one tree deity (actually I didn’t call “her” a deity, but could be assumed I suppose), and what caused me to write about this now … all appropriate questions.

      Which of course raises the central question (at least for me): Why didn’t people ask these kinds of questions of the founders of religions?

      Thanks for falling into my trick/trap!

      • Thanks for the response Chris. I actually didn’t fall but thought it was a clever trick for others to take a side on. I have read you for too many years including your books so to have you relate this life-changing event for the first time, did not equate. I think that when Mohammed, Abraham, Moses, Buddha were alive during the Axial Age and then after the collapse of the Roman Empire few people actually read what they said. It was regurgitated by followers who were not as charismatic, or enlightened as the original messengers. It never ceases to amaze me how many of the great religions of the world are started by men who were ascetics or came out of caves with the word of god. It took cosmopolitan culture and the development of a canon by later ecclesiastical powers to cement what was only sand and gravel. The prophecies were very fluid and useful for people to say, “it came from god” and to question the prophet was to say you didn’t vote for the presidential candidate of your party. This still happens today where the bible is very fluid and you can support almost anything with its words and stories. It is a Rorschach Test, which may be similar to what you just sent to us.

        • HA! I knew that, Marty. I would call it a critical thinking exercise rather than a trick, as I try to approach these issues of religion from different, hopefully creative, angles. As an angler, I know you appreciate that! Cheers.

  2. I get the angling angle Chris. If one fly doesn’t work change the fly. Lots of trial and error fishing these days even for the experts. What do you make of so many of the ancient sages and prophets coming out of the woods, or on high sometimes high to deliver gods word to “his” people. It seems that the divine only really gets serious about sending the goods when one is alone. So why all of the church stuff?

    • Great question, Marty. Yes, it’s one thing to be solitary and contemplative in a natural environment but another to emerge from that alone time with a “message” for others. If it’s to tell a story about an amazing animal, remarkable forest (or wonderful tree), without framing the story in imaginative, “spiritual” language, then the storyteller’s time alone can be valuable. Of course, my “angle” is that nature is nature and whether we go in wild places alone or with others the experience is good in itself, without any additives like prayer or belief. Religious history is based on additives and embellished stories where nature is subordinate to super-nature. So, your question is continually needed.

      • What you say makes perfect sense. It is the framing of nature that subordinated it to the myths and all cultures do this as a way to explain why things happen. That is why when the competitive scientific hypotheses took off in the Enlightenment, it took the God of the gaps down to size and it led to Deism or just a first cause and not proximal explanation by the Supra-natural. Now after so may natural laws were discovered religion became mostly the affective dimension and community pushing for political power. When I emerge from a glorious clear mountain valley and stream I do not think about power except for climate change so the water will not disappear and thus we follow. I feel the power of calmness and beauty so embodied that who caused all of this is irrelevant. I imagine this happens to you also. I might note, I rarely fish or hike with people. I find solitary movement and sensory input is enhanced by being alone. People want to talk…which I do also but not fly fishing. I want to hear the gentle whip of the cast and the imperceptible whap of my line on the water, the splash of the take and then the birds singing while I release my fish unharmed.

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