When the city of Melbourne, Australia, gave some of the local trees ID numbers and email addresses, city officials expected reports about dangerous branches or dead trees.

Instead, they got emails to the trees. Some were whimsical, some questioning, others were bordering on silly.

Adrienne LaFrance over at The Atlantic published some of the messages sent by Melbournians (with personal info redacted):

An example of a letter sent to a tree. The writer of this message seems to feel the tree is on the same side. Perhaps he or she was leaning against it while studying? (Photo: Letters from Melbourne)

The messages are simple, but are perhaps exercising the writer's empathy, encouraging them to see life — for just a moment — from a tree's perspective.

An example of a letter sent to a tree. This letter writer expresses gratefulness to an Algerian oak. (Photo: Letters from Melbourne)

In some cases, the letter writers received replies from the tree — or city officials posing as trees. But that's not really the point. The act of writing the letter is the part that seems to matter here.

Human beings have always anthropomorphized nonhuman objects, and the ubiquity of communications technology means that this is more common now — and even normalized in some ways, like this Melbourne example.

Other cities have instituted citizen reporting via app for street repairs, while some individuals communicate with their homes via smart home "conversations," some of which have gone hilariously awry. But this is something different.

This is the first story I've read in which Internet-enabled communications were philosophical, not practical.

It begs the question: What if we specifically designed urban areas in ways that encouraged locals to not just report on mundanities, but to explore their world in a new way? What if kids followed a local tree, pond or bush on social media and it became a friend of sorts? What if they could write to it, and observe it during visits? In this way, kids might become more connected to the natural world, learning about how the natural object changes over time. It could be a way to fight the disconnect between children and the natural world that's worsening over time, and serve as an educational opportunity.

Of course, since writing has so many beneficial psychological effects, adults could engage in the practice as well.

What would I write to the maple tree that's outside my window? (The leaves on its lowest branches practically reach into the room!) I would certainly first thank it for its excellent shade, which keeps this whole side of the house cool even on the hottest summer days. I would tell it how much I enjoyed the bright-to-mellow-to-dark-green leaf color changes — and that's even before the autumn show begins. I think mine would be a message of appreciation — and since being thankful can improve your life, that seems like an exercise worth doing.

But who knows? I haven't put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard yet. Maybe I'd write something completely different.

What tree would you write a letter to? What would your letter say?

Related on MNN:

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.