My parents sent my husband a cool DVD for his birthday: “7 Days in Laos.” We all sat down to watch it while he gave us additional tidbits of information.

Recipes, of course. You can’t watch nature shows, or even go to the zoo with my husband without hearing about the best ways to cook every living creature. We also often get to hear the stories about the super powers of former rulers of Laos. I don’t know why we never get presidents with super powers. Last night we heard about the king who stopped three million destructive elephants with a baseball bat. I feel fairly sure that Mr. Obama couldn’t do that. Or even Jackie Chan.

But he also told us about why houses in his country can’t be built like the houses here. It’s the spirits in the big trees. You can’t cut down a big tree and make a house out of it because the spirit of the tree would cause bad luck for everyone in the village. He told us this, and a related story about fish, in great detail.

“Do you believe that?” I asked him.

Like many people from traditional cultures, my husband often tells stories with the inclusion of how this story is told and believed by many people, though he didn’t see it himself. I was curious, though.

He assured me that the big trees in his country had spirits, but that American trees don’t. This is why we can build houses from wood. Also, presumably, why we can’t catch fish without elaborate equipment.

I sometimes wonder what effect this has on our kids. I know it leaves me with that dreamlike feeling of having entered another reality. It’s also why I tend to find American supposed animists and pagans unconvincing. When you’ve chatted about architecture with someone who really believes that trees have spirits, those Mother Nature and We Are Stardust approaches seem disingenuous.