Growing up, I remember watching other kids playing on the balance beam and jungle gym, marveling at their steadiness and hand-eye coordination. I felt left out—inadequate—because I had no dexterity.
But even though I couldn’t run across logs or swing from monkey bars, I had another talent that made me unique: I could hear trees! Yes, unlike the kids on the playground, I could hear the trees speaking to me in strange tones. Some would be singing lightly and some would let out deep groans. I could also hear the stones lying deep in the earth. Even the books in my house had their own quiet language.
It was always my assumption that this remarkable—albeit strange—ability was a side effect of the many ear infections I had while growing up. (I was allergic to penicillin, which was the only effective antibiotic drug available at the time.) A severe case of mastoiditis—a middle ear infection afflicting the mastoid bone just behind the ear—resulted in having half of that bone cut out, which, I presumed, accounted for my balance problems and ability to hear objects talking. Apart from being able to hear the world differently, I also recognized that my ability to see the world was unlike anyone else’s. One of my favorite pastimes was to watch people think; I could literally see words forming in a person’s brain, moving down into his or her body.