Why trees make good friends ~ confessions of a unrepentant tree-hugger.

Why trees make good friends ~ confessions of a unrepentant tree-hugger.

Many years ago, (or it might be the blink of an eye), I worked on a nature reserve as an education officer. It was my first job after university, apart from one working in a primary school as a lunchtime assistant. It’s still a job that holds a special place in my memory because it meant I got to spend much of my working day in woodland. Not merely woodland but ancient woodland with a variety of habitats from rare yew woodland to coastal dunes. I spent most of my childhood scrambling up and down trees, (not to mention falling out of them) so being paid to work in a slice of primal forest along a glacial river valley was an unexpected joy. Oh, I had to conduct educational tours for visitors, mainly school children, but there were many afternoons where I and my colleague assisted the survey team mapping out the flora and fauna of the reserve. I was privileged to spend time among a tribe of badgers; I got pelted with pine-cones by the resident cheeky red squirrels.

But it was the trees that opened up to me the most. You see, trees are full of surprises. When we were conducting tours with children we did a number of exercises to try and share the wonder of the natural world with kids who spent virtually no time in the open. One such exercise is to place an ear to the trunk of a tree and listen to the sap. It’s like a heartbeat. That changed forever how most saw trees. From seeing them as odd architecture, those kids saw trees as living beings. In the blink of an eye, the world looked different.

I’ve had many special trees in my life. A tree never wriggles or looks uncomfortable when you tell it secrets, pour out your soul. You can cry with a tree and they’ll never try to make you stop. They’re the best company when you’re sad, because they have more time. They take things slow. So when you spend time with trees, you slow down too. Your concerns are put into the perspective of a being that might live hundreds of years (or in some cases, possibly thousands). And if you can slow down enough, trees will talk back to you.

We’re not talking about Disney-esque conversations here, with Grandmother Willow morphing into human form. This is subtle. Slow. Gentle. Deep. You have to let yourself be still. Very still. You go into that quiet, peaceful space inside where you begin to notice things you’d normally never notice. The way the branches dip and sway. The scent of the leaves and the touch of the bark. The sound of the breeze and the creak of the trunk as the wind tries to bend it. The way insects move along twigs. It’s a language without words. But sometimes the words pop into your head. Sitting under a stand of birches one September, one said to me very distinctly, “Winter’s coming.” Just that. Simple but profound, that’s the closest trees come to small talk. The birch was passing the time of year with me as a human might pass the time of day.

To get to know a tree takes time. Our lives are short to them; to a yew we are mayfly, ephemeral and insignificant. Some tree species we are drawn to, others we are repelled by. Some take a dislike to us. I’ve been poked in the eye by more than one yew tree (but oddly only ever female yews) and those trees that disliked me I saw touch my husband with a tender leaf-laden branch, patting his shoulder fondly.

Trees are individuals. Each is different, even those in a grove of the same species. Get blindfolded and have someone lead you to a tree so you have to discover it using senses other than sight. I’d be willing to bet you’ll find your tree again even among a hundred of the same species. Each curve and dip in their skin is unique. On a sunny spring day find a thin-barked tree, perhaps a birch, or an apple tree, and lean against the trunk. Feel it move with the breeze; press your ear to the bark and hear the rush and rumble of the sap pumping, like the blood and digestion of a great beast.

Make friends with trees and they’ll change the way you see the world. They’ll teach you things no human teacher can ever show you and they let you take your time. And once you’ve got to know one tree, the whole world will start to change. You’ll start to see that everything that is, is alive and vibrant and needs to be cherished and valued. And in the end, you may see your own part in this great web of life, no greater but no less than any other creature.

Tree Gods

They wait, these trees.

Slender children of older gods,

Mighty as towers but long gone,

Fallen to ruin and leaf mould.

They wait, these trees.

Winters pass like melting snow;

The glades grow dense, with brambles

Hiding their burrowing feet.

Moss-furred stumps,

The bones of their ancestors

Remind them of past glories.

They wait, these trees.

Summers pass like blooming flowers.

The dells ring with song

And deer run in hidden paths

Of dappled sun and shade.

They wait, these trees.

The tiny child grows up,

Grows old and passes on,

Houses rise and houses fall

Towns boom, towns bust,

Kings and queens come and go.

The trees alone remain.

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17 thoughts on “Why trees make good friends ~ confessions of a unrepentant tree-hugger.

  1. There is a very old tree in the Bishop’s Palace Gardens in Wells that definitely doesn’t like me. Each time I approach I can feel myself being pushed away. I have great love and respect for all trees so I don’t understand why this tree in particular appears not to like me.

    There are some wonderful trees in the Gardens, I’m particularly fond of a Pawlonia tree and it’s spreading roots. It is an amazing sight when in full bloom and easy to see why it is sometimes known as the foxglove tree.

  2. This is lovely piece. I visited British COlumbia last month, the trees are amazing.
    I’m so sad that our Ontario Elm trees are dying from Dutch Elm Disease.

  3. Beautiful sharing… “Get blindfolded and have someone lead you to a tree so you have to discover it using senses other than sight.” Love this suggestion! Thank you and blessings! P.S. Found you via Jean Raffa’s blog…

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