Despite living in an environment where trees are plentiful, we may not give them the attention they deserve. It might be that we are so busy we do not notice our surroundings. Or it may be that our private concerns weigh heavily, forcing us to look inward rather than outward. Or perhaps we are just tired, weary of all the troubles that beset our world. When we are distracted, we forget about trees and how much they enrich our lives. Now is the time to renew our passion for trees.
During my childhood I lived in the suburb of Oakleigh. I can recall the large oak trees that grew in the school yard and the masses of acorns they produced. Children filled their pockets with the acorns using them for arts and crafts or throwing at their friends.
My mother enjoyed gardening. She planted a Liquidambar in our front lawn. The window of our living room framed it beautifully. A Liquidambar is a tall but narrow growing deciduous tree. During autumn, the large leaves produce a vibrant display of red, orange, and purple.
Trees teach us about life. Trees give us hope and insight, and courage to persevere – even in the harshest conditions. The American poet and journalist, Walt Whitman says,
‘The quiet but imposing presence of a tree is a powerful display of authenticity.’
Trees are for real. What they have to say to us endures. The German poet and philosopher Herman Hesse says,
‘When we have learned to listen to trees… that is home. That is happiness.’
Trees are essential for our survival. Without trees, there is no environment for life on earth. Every living creature is affected by the health of the world’s tree population.
It is said that trees could survive without humanity, but could humanity survive without trees?
Without trees to regulate and maintain the environment, there would be no life on earth.
Trees have been around since the beginning of time. We are told in the Bible that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil occupied a prominent place in the Garden of Eden.
Trees live to a great age. They are among the oldest living things on earth. The oldest tree in Australia is thought to be a Huon Pine in Tasmania, the oldest stem of which is up to 2000 years old.
Trees record history. Their growth layers, appearing as rings in the cross section of the tree trunk, record evidence of disastrous floods, insect attacks, lightening strikes, and even earthquakes that occurred during the lifespan of the tree. They also hold excellent records of climate.
Trees refresh the air we breathe. A forest of trees acts as a giant filter, cleaning the air we breathe. Trees help cleanse the air by intercepting airborne particles, reducing heat, and absorbing such pollutants as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
Trees are good for our health. Some of the specific health benefits that trees directly bring to humans include
- Having access to trees and green areas significantly impacts mental health, including decreasing symptoms of stress and depression and raising self-esteem levels
- Being exposed to trees and forests can boost our immune systems
- Spending time around trees can reduce fatigue, helping us regain our focus
Trees enhance our quality of life. Trees energise our flagging spirit and awaken our senses. As author Fiona Stafford says,
‘Fresh smells, the sound of moving leaves and birdsong, the texture of the bark – all of these are appealing.’
Trees attract wildlife to urban settings, providing habitation and food to communities of birds, animals, insects, lichen, and fungi.
Trees provide a natural playground, inviting exploration and adventure. Groups of people socialise under the tree canopy, finding shade from the hot sun.
Trees are living memorials. We often become personally attached to trees that we, or those we love, have planted. They may mark an accomplishment or an important event, a wedding, or the birth of a child.
A tree can also be planted to honour the life of someone dear to us. In our case, we adopted a tree, giving it special significance.
Our adopted tree stands in the Frankston Botanical Gardens and is a memorial to our son Adam who took his life eleven years ago. We refer to it as ‘Adam’s Tree.’ It is in an area of the garden where we meet for family picnics. The tree draws us together, inviting us to stop and remember, and give thanks for his life. It also reminds us of the commitment we have made to support one another whatever the circumstances.
Trees remind us of the past. Trees are long term residents of the landscape, surveyors of our lives. Trees have a way of bridging generations, connecting us with the past.
In indigenous culture trees are part of the mob. Indigenous people believe that when we destroy trees, we destroy ourselves. When Aboriginal people scarred trees, they removed large pieces of its bark and used it for traditional purposes like harvesting containers or food implements. Scarred trees are sacred as they are fragile reminders of how their ancestors lived.
Trees connect us with the future. Fiona Stafford, author of The Long, Long Life of Trees, says,
‘If you plant a sapling that may take 200 years to reach its full stature, you are pledging faith in the future and offering a gift to the generations yet to be born.’
By caring for them, we become part of a narrative that can last for years.
Renowned author, George Orwell sees planting a tree as a gift to posterity. He says,
‘The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root, it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.’
Trees are worth fighting for. Naturalist John Muir urged the federal government to adopt a forest conservation policy. His advocacy led to the establishment of Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park, which are in California.
John Muir was a man of deep faith. He looked to nature for guidance and inspiration. He was keenly observant of everything that went on around him. Muir encouraged people to experience the forest, to listen to its heartbeat. He writes,
A few minutes ago Every tree was excited, Bowing to the roaring storm, Waving, swirling, tossing their branches In glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear These trees are now silent, Their songs never cease.
Planting trees generates income. The world needs more trees. People in poorer rural communities are desperate for trees, productive trees, trees that will provide them with an income sufficient for their needs, particularly the health and education of their children.
It is a simple equation: Productive trees = Sustainable future
Planting food-producing trees, trees that grow tree products – like fruits, nuts, berries, and resins – encourages economic stability. When communities rely on the trees for food and saleable products, they are less likely to cut them down.
Passionate people plant trees. George Orwell was an anti-fascist and an avid gardener. Orwell’s writing is laced with references to the natural world. Orwell devoted time to contemplating nature and beauty. It gave him the mental strength and agility to tackle difficult subjects like fascism, totalitarianism, propaganda, and lies.
Orwell considered planting trees an appropriate act of remorse to antisocial behaviour. He says,