As some of the oldest organisms on our planet, trees demonstrate their capacity to join earth, water and sky through their own bodies to transform the energy of the sun into oxygen and food. Forests are the guardians of the planetary atmosphere and are integral in many planetary processes such as the carbon dioxide/oxygen cycle, the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle. Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide, they also filter sewage and farm chemicals, reduce the effects of animal wastes, clean roadside spills and clean water runoff into streams. Trees slow down rainwater runoff and reduce erosion. They also act as wind breaks, offer shade and reduce noise pollution. Wood provides shelter or warmth. Wood is used for musical instruments, tools and also for boats or canoes. Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was inspired by the forest wildlands and dedicated himself to nature conservation — not just for the physical well-being of humans, but to maintain the integrity of natural ecosystems. We live in total interdependence with trees and other plants, but they enhance the quality of our lives in so many ways.
The presence of trees can also affect our mental and emotional state. Consider, for example, the tranquility and serenity people feel when they sit under a tree or walk through a forest. John Muir claimed, “Come to the woods, for here is rest.” In literature, Thoreau writes about the “living spirit of the tree” and declares a tree to be “full of poetry.” Poet Joyce Kilmer says that he’ll “never see a poem lovely as a tree.” I recall from my childhood the joy and excitement felt climbing trees and the magic of building a treehouse.
Many of the world's ancient belief systems include the concept of sacred groves where trees are revered and respected. From ancient Norse, Baltic and Celtic mythologies, to the Nigerian, Indian and Mongolian cosmological thought, extending far east in the ancient Shinto faith of Japan and the forest peoples of Malaysia, sacred groves are considered living temples. The Druids had rituals involving Yew or Oak groves, African tribes people live intimately with the baobab trees. In both India and Sri Lanka, Buddhists venerate the Bodhi Tree. Native Americans call trees The Standing People. The Kabala discusses the tree of life or world tree. This great tree acts as an Axis mundi, supporting or holding up the cosmos, and providing a link between the heavens, earth and underworld.
“Unless moved by humans, trees remain rooted in one place throughout their lifetime, preserving their native character. They stand tall, solid and strong, rooted in the earth. They become an integral part of the place where they live, a contributing member of the biotic community. Perhaps there is no better example for us, as humans, to emulate. Listening to the trees, we can learn not only about a particular geographic place, but also about our place in the larger community of life.” Ruth Wilson
Enjoy the aesthetic wonder of trees!