Every week, Arthur visited the forest behind his house. He was a mathematician. He craved logic, and answers, and he loved numbers for the concrete answers that they gave. He had no faith in any religion, or in any god, because they could never provide any proof of their existence.
Logically, though, Arthur believed that there was a high chance that there was some sort of life beyond Earth. He was not entirely sure. That drove him nuts. He could not handle not knowing something for sure. The things he did all day were always solvable, no matter how hard, and they had answers that made sense. Higher life did not.
He visited the forest to attempt to make sense of it all. He talked to the forest for a few hours at a time, hoping to understand. It never helped, but at the very least, he found it soothing. It became a tradition of his. He built up a reputation as the strange man who visited and talked to the forest, but he paid no attention to it.
"Hello, beautiful forest!
I'm happy you tolerate my presence all the time.
I hope you can tolerate it today as well.
I brought food for the birds today."
The birds were completely unaware of Arthur's poor reputation. They loved Arthur. He brought seeds most days, but even when he didn't, they couldn't help but flock around him and chirp back nonsensical, whimsical answers to his questions.
"I don't have anything new to ask today.
It's the same. I need to know.
I can't sleep straight anymore, forest.
I don't want to be alone on this Earth anymore.
Is there any other life out there?
Even amoeba. Even cells. Even gigantic cockroaches.
(You know I hate cockroaches, forest)."
Chirp chirp, the birds went. Arthur listened silently until they finished.
Creak creak, the trees went. Arthur waited patiently for the trees to stop swaying.
Crunch crunch, the rocks went. Arthur bit his thumb until the rocks weren't being crushed.
When the forest was quiet, Arthur spoke.
"I do not understand yet.
I am sorry, forest. I wish I could.
I will come back next Sunday.
I will listen to you sing again.
I hope I will understand then."
Off Arthur went.
Sunday came once more, and Arthur visited the forest once more. He took his usual spot, and took his usual bird feed, and took his usual position. Arthur found himself wishing that he didn't have this tradition. He wanted to understand. He wanted his question answered. He wanted the answer to be yes.
"Good evening, my beloved forest!
I grow impatient.
I know the fault does not lay on you.
But I cannot understand.
I can understand everything else in the world if I try.
But this, I can't, no matter what.
Still, though, I crave more from you."
He set out some of the bird feed.
"Are we alone on this Earth?"
"No, Arthur," the birds trilled.
"You are life living on life," the trees creaked.
"Earth breathes and sleeps and creates, just like you," the rocks grumbled.
"Wait, what?" Arthur said. "I knew that I was a little mad in the head. Why is the forest replying to me? How can I understand you?"
"Don't get so caught up on it, dear. We just wanted to help you understand."
If that's what the forest said, then so be it. Arthur could worry about his teetering mental sanity later. He thought for some time, trying to process what the forest said.
"Forest, do you mean to tell me that the Earth is another form of life?"
"Yes, it is. I am a tree that extends out of the Earth. I make my home on Earth. Without Earth, I would not exist."
"So, then, are we all simply extensions of Earth? Has Earth been the form of life the whole time, and we are simply parts of it?"
"Very close, little one. It is the same way cells are part of your body. But cells are a life form of their own,” the bird said. “That is why us birds and you humans also count as life.”
"So, we must be tiny cells that are part of Earth. Every single one of us, from the humans, to the rocks, to the birds, to the trees."
"Yes! You are a quick one, Arthur," the rock replied. “I know it is weird to consider things like me, like rocks, as a cell, or even as part of Earth. But the Earth would not be the Earth without rocks.”
"I was never alone, was I? This whole time, I lived on another form of life. And - oh! - the other planets! They are all living beings of their own, aren't they? Do they have their own sort of cells? Their own trees, and rocks, and birds, and people?"
“They do, but we are not able to recognize them yet. We have not grown enough, and cannot perceive enough. In time, we will come to understand the life of Venus and Mars as well as we understand the life of Earth.”
“I am glad that you could talk to me, forest. I have so, so many things to ask, but I do not even know where to begin. For now, I am happy. Forest! I cannot thank you enough. Please, tell me how I can repay you for your kindness.”
“You have been as kind to us as we have been to you. The Earth wanted to share and be understood. We are simply the mouthpiece, and we are almost out of words. Come back here and listen to us still. Come listen to the birds singing, and the crushing of the rocks, and the trees in the air, and the frogs that are croaking. You never paid much attention to the frogs, did you?”
"I will listen to you! I will listen to you all, and the frogs, and the flowers, and the rivers. Even if you have nothing else you can say. I want to hear it all."
The forest became wordless, but Arthur listened to its singing until midnight. He smiled the whole walk home.
The next day, Arthur borrowed a telescope, and looked at the stars and planets from his rooftop.
He spoke to them the same way he spoke to the forest:
"It's nice to meet you, stars and planets!
I learned some things about you from a dear friend of mine.
They ran out of words yesterday.
I don't know if you have any.
But, if you do, I will try to understand.
I will listen to your singing and ringing until I do."