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Teaming Up With Nature

Photo of Conrad Clare house

A tree-enclosed bungalow in upstate New York.

Facebook is a fount of information which can enlighten and unburden you, if you seek the gems. Someone posted a link to a beautiful page, brainpickings.org, describing a book by Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, that explores The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

The author explains that trees are underrated and very influential and that their communities, that is, forests, protect and nurture their members, just as humans and animals do.

As the site continues, “Wohlleben ponders this astonishing sociality of trees…:

‘Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. …

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.


‘A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.'”

This same strength applies to the individual human. And while human affection for trees is long-standing and undisputed, human understanding of the rich lessons trees hold for our species is mostly ignored.

IN GRADE SCHOOL we were taught the origin of fruits and nuts and the paper we write on and use, is the tree. As adults we appreciate the maple sap that yields edible syrup and the different, sometimes thicker sap that yields the oils of myrrh, frankincense and copaiba (copal). We also love the evergreen trees that yield cones, needles, oils and unguents to scent our homes and uplift our spirits —fir, pine, eucalyptus, melaleuca, tsuga, spruce, cedar, cypress, juniper. Research these oils here (click catalog).

DO YOU HAVE holistic health goals that you want to bear fruit? You can align yourself with others who have similar goals, as trees in the forest do. Don’t be a lone ranger “gunning” after good health and a longevity –you won’t enjoy them being alone.

And, you don’t have to join a paleo religion or follow the latest guru. Trees do not imitate another species because they protect one of its members or nurture it back to health. Listening and applying good advice from a “foreign” source is also good for the group because we learn from one another.

“…[T]rees don’t interact with one another in isolation from the rest of the ecosystem. The substance of their communication, in fact, is often about and even to other species. Wohlleben describes their particularly remarkable olfactory* warning system:

‘Four decades ago, scientists noticed something on the African savannah. The giraffes there were feeding on umbrella thorn acacias, and the trees didn’t like this one bit. It took the acacias mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores. The giraffes got the message and moved on to other trees in the vicinity. But did they move on to trees close by? No, for the time being, they walked right by a few trees and resumed their meal only when they had moved about 100 yards away.

‘The reason for this behavior is astonishing. The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off a warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on. Or else they moved upwind. For the scent messages are carried to nearby trees on the breeze, and if the animals walked upwind, they could find acacias close by that had no idea the giraffes were there.'”

There seems to be a moral here, a lesson to take away and ponder. If you research it, there are so many metaphors, similes and quotes related to being as secure, resolute and majestic as the trees. This one gives a message that’s particularly appropriate this January:

Be strong enough to stand alone,

be yourself enough to stand apart,

but be wise enough to stand together when the time comes.

–Rev. Niamo Nancy Muid