How To Think Like a Tree

Meditations in Motion

We have a huge walnut tree in our backyard I pass every time I walk the dog in the linear park behind our house. Actually, it’s not technically in our backyard, thank heavens.

I say “thank heavens” because to me, untrained in forestry as I am, the tree appears not long for this world.

Our land is adjacent to a woodlot owned by the township in which we live, part of a linear park. The property boundaries are kind of sketchy. I wasn’t sure precisely where our lot ended and the park began.

The park used to be a dairy farm where cows grazed in the meadow by a very small stream. The cows were fenced in, of course. Our neighbor, the farmer, did not want his cows roaming the neighborhood eating residents’ petunias.

Following a search, I found the remnants of a wire fence that marked the limit of the cows’ territory and also the property boundary embedded in the trunk of the giant walnut tree. The wire was on our side of the tree, so the trunk of the tree is on the township’s side.

The tree, a black walnut, is a behemoth, its diameter much greater than my arm span, probably more than a hundred years old.

Trees, according to Jack C. Schultz, a professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri, “are just very slow animals“. Trees communicate, fight predators, protect their young, and move with purpose.

Meditations in MotionWhen we look at a grove of aspens, we see individual trees of varying heights, diameters, and shapes all flinging their pale arms fringed with golden leaves skyward. Underground and unseen, however, they are connected by a root system completely intertwined and interdependent.

Events that affect one tree impact all of them. Just like our human support networks.

We may appear like upright, strong, individual people, but there is an unseen connection, a community, that provides us with sustenance and defense.

Also like humans, parent trees nurture their offspring by pumping nutrients into their systems. Young trees, growing up in the shade of a parent may lack sufficient sunlight to photosynthesize.

In response to this, older trees transport sugars to their vulnerable immature neighbors to help them survive their first perilous years.

Trees think about time differently than we humans do; they are in it for the long haul. They move at a much more leisurely pace.

Meditations in MotionThere is a (quite possibly true) story told about the huge oak beams that span the ceiling of the dining hall in New College, Oxford, constructed in the fourteenth century.

In the late 1800s, an entomologist discovered that the beams, infested with beetles, required replacement.

This presented a problem. In the intervening 500 years since the construction of the hall, forests in England and, in fact, much of Europe, were felled. After much searching, there were no suitable oak trees to be found nearby which could provide beams measuring two feet by two feet.

Fortunately, it was eventually discovered that a grove of oak trees had been planted on a remote parcel of land owned by the college immediately upon completion of the construction of the dining hall for exactly this use. These 500-year-old oaks provided the beams needed to replace the crumbling ones.

One striking difference between humans and trees is the often short-sighted behavior of modern people. We value profit in the short-term over the benefits of preserving standing trees in the long-term.

Over half a million square miles of forest land has been intentionally destroyed in the past three decades.

Not only do trees absorb the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air, but they also sequester them in their bark, wood, and leaves.

Cutting down forests escalates water pollution through the destruction of root systems responsible for preventing soil erosion. When it rains, the unbound soil gets washed into nearby waterways.

Meditations in Motion
Photo from Wikipedia

While individual trees are firmly rooted in one place and even the famous “walking palm trees” of the tropics don’t actually ambulate, populations of trees have been shown to migrate.

Studies show the single-leaf piรฑon pine has been migrating northward for thousands of years, since the last ice age, both by natural seed dispersal and through human assistance by ancient Native Americans.

In the last three decades, populations of sugar maples, white oaks, and others have been migrating north, west, and up (to higher elevations) in response to climate change.

The problem with climate change is that it occurs in human-time, not tree-time. Increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns are happening faster than trees can move. Trees migrate over millennia, not decades.

Trees weakened by the effects of climate change are more susceptible to insect infestation, outbreaks of pathogens, increased frequency of forest fires, and invasive alien species.

In the Bible, we are told to expect a day of righteousness,(W)e are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” We are also told, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven.

Until then, it’s up to us, here on earth. We are expected to take care of the place, to protect and care for all Creation, to eschew immediate profit for sustainability, to take the long view, to think like a tree.

What acorns can we plant today?

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 comments

  1. You know you are barking up the right tree for me!
    We just had some siding changed and the workmen were careless and broke some of my dwarf trees. I was so sad, but I know they can come back if I take care of them properly. I only hope that we can start to take care of the world properly before it is too late.
    In the meantime, I will plant more trees!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reading The Overstory with the book club really started me thinking about trees. I hope we take care of the world properly too. so sorry about your trees. I am sure with your green thumb you can rescue them. I will plant more trees too!

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  2. As I was reading your (extremely engaging) post, I was planning to comment by telling you that you MUST read The Overstory — but of course, you’re way ahead of me. I knew some of what he had to say about trees and forests, but I am regarding them now with new eyes. I miss being in a book club — this is a book that begs for discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I LOVED that book! I saved some quotes by the author to use on the blog but cannot figure out how to work them into a post. I was way too fanatical about this book in our book club discussion. I think I irritated everyone else in the club (except maybe Peg, the woman who commented ahead of you on the post)! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. We not only need to think like trees, we need to think like entire forests. We need to become slow-moving animals, too, so that we consider the ramifications of our actions before they harm the planet. Living in aspen country, we have many direct lessons. Each grove is one organism, much like mankind is really one animal with lots of bodies….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Our “lightning strike” tree took the fall for all the others in our woods this past summer. I will be showcasing that in a future blog. Danny just recently chose to have it taken down before a line of storms were upon us, threatening to fall upon our home or the apartments behind us.
    This one tree took the fall for the entire forest. Took the brunt, chose to be a sacrifice, for trees undeserving surrounding it.
    Jesus did the same for us . . .
    Blessings, Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Climate change is something that really worries me. I truly hope that we will be able to turn around the damaging effects in time for future generations. What gives me hope is that the young people in Europe are very much aware of the problem (Greta!) and are trying to initiate a change in the way people think about our planet. We definitely need to think more like trees!

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  6. If it comes time to deal with that tree, I hope you are spared the expense. We have a tree on our property line that eventually enveloped the fence. Now it’s very hard to say whose tree this is. Fortunately, it’s healthy. Trees do so much for us.

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  7. Great post Laurie. I think I read that Notre Dame cathedral would have a similar problem finding suitable tree trunks and would need to go synthetic. No one’s in it for the long-game. From our political policies to the decisions companies make, everyone wants it NOW.

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  8. Climate change scares me Laurie – it is not just this whopper snowstorm that will greet me when I wake up tomorrow morning; it is all the not-so-subtle weather changes that I have really noticed the last three years. I am a person who does not like to stray too far from the ordinary and comfort level I’ve been accustomed to and this new normal for the living things in our world is frightening. The magnolia buds erupting three or even four times a year; my little ornamental tree still has not lost its leaves and once again, come Spring, I will need to pluck them off so it can have new growth. It’s been a fixture in my front garden since 1985 – I know its habits and the weather swings are not good for it … they’re not good for us either. Every other morning I awake to the news of another earthquake – those poor people in Puerto Rico are afraid to sleep in a building, they crowd the streets every night where they feel safe. Nope, I don’t like the “new norm” in the least.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have noticed a lot of subtle changes in the last few years too. When we went down to the beach this year and 2 years ago, the bike paths were flooded most of the time we were down there. There are more cloudy days now. I looked it up one time. We had trees bud out of season 2 years in a row too. I think it’s only going to get worse.

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      • I took some pictures in June last year and still have not used them, where the bike and walking paths at Lake Erie Metropark were still covered in water from the Spring flooding. The park benches are sitting in Lake Erie instead of along the shoreline. It will get worse and they said (NOAA) that we will have a six-month period through June with more rain than usual – well, that has happened the past two years, if not three years – two years for sure. I think it will get worse too. We had five inches of wet and heavy snow and I feel like i got run over by a Mack truck or shoveled all that mulch you and Bill did last Spring. The last time I spread mulch and ordered 36 bags, I thought I’d never straighten up again!

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      • Yes it is – that looked to be quite a job from your pictures you showed us. Did you and Bill get the house cleaned top to bottom like you asked him to help you with? You said he wasn’t enthusiastic – I wouldn’t be either.

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      • I don’t blame you – when I spread the 36 bags I thought I’d never get done and I ordered them to be delivered from a nursery and I put them on the back patio … that was the Friday before Memorial Day. Went to spread the mulch on the Sunday – picked up the first bag and carpenter ants were running everywhere! They ran away and into the grass once I moved the bag but having had carpenter ants in the house and a pest control service for years as a result of an oak tree that got carpenter ants, it made me nervous and I sure didn’t want to go that route again. I need to get more this year, so will have to make a decision what to do – they delivered which was better than schlepping all the bags home in six different trips. I wouldn’t mind going with the rubber tire mulch, but it doesn’t come in natural, just brown and black or dark colors and it costs a small fortune, but it doesn’t break down like regular mulch.

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      • Ewww… finding ants in the mulch makes my skin crawl! Yuck! I don’t know if I could have spread that mulch around. We need to get more mulch this year too. I told Bill about it. He is not happy! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I was really leery but I thought do I ask them to pick it back up – what would I do with 36 bags of mulch filled with ants. But once I picked up the first bag and they scurried away I just laid it – but this is a huge landscape supply place and they advertise all the time on the radio and do the landscaping work for a lot of hospitals and other large organizations, so I felt pretty confident paying in advance for the mulch and delivery was free … but yes, we had carpenter ants for many years from the oak trees and I sure didn’t want to wade into that mess (and expense) again. You should ask him if he wants to do the rubber mulch which is more like bark, not mulch – it does not disintegrate at least. But the problem with mulch, as you know, is when you rake out shrub/bush clippings and leaves, a good deal of the mulch comes along with it so there goes the rubber mulch as well.

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      • I’ll bet Bill goes for it – hope he does, once and done for a long time! Now that my shrubs have been in place for years (1985) and gotten bigger, I don’t need as much mulch now. I got the 36 bags as it had disintegrated to almost nothing and I lost so many bushes and flowers after the back-to-back years with Polar Vortexes and I did not replant anything, so I had many bare spots.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello Laurie,

    I enjoyed reading the way you share such detailed observations, and then, build a practical lesson from those at the conclusion.

    Especially liked reading this: “Trees, according to Jack C. Schultz, a professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri, โ€œare just very slow animalsโ€œ. Trees communicate, fight predators, protect their young, and move with purpose.” Gave me a new perspective on our silent companions here.

    Thank you, for sharing. I would again, post this with an excerpt on Twitter, as well.๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I like the phrase of trees being just “very slow animals.”And to think they communicate in their networks — it really is amazing. Thank you for all these insights on trees.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We went to Runymede last year and saw a 2000 year old yew tree. Chris and I both felt an amazing spiritual experience, a peace and hope. The amazingness of nature, the fragility of human life. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

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