Friends, not objects
By Jim Poling Sr.
Published July 19, 2018
The finest place to be during the hot, humid days of high summer is with your best friends. The place to find them is in the forest because that’s where they live.
Although we don’t always realize it, our best friends are trees. There is no more giving and sheltering species on our planet.
A storybook version of the unselfishness of a tree is found in the 1964 children’s classic The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It is the touching story of an apple tree that gives a boy selfless love.
The tree offers a place to play, a trunk to climb and branches on which to swing. It offers him apples to eat and later as he becomes a man, apples to sell. It allows him to cut its branches to build his home and a boat.
After a lifetime the tree is reduced to a stump and has nothing else to offer the boy, who has become an old man. Yet it does have one more thing to give – its stump as a place to sit and rest.
It is a touching story with a major flaw. It treats the tree as an object. In fact, a tree is a living being, which is born, lives and dies in a fashion similar to a human being. Some scientists even believe that trees communicate with each other through a network of soil fungi.
Most of us treat trees as objects from which we can take what we need, or simply want. Fuel, lumber for tools, homes and furniture, paper, shelter from sun, wind and other elements.
Trees offer us more than just stuff. Their colours, their stateliness, their scents soothe and relax us. Green, for instance, is a calming colour believed to relieve stress and aid healing.
More importantly trees have a critical role in balancing our environment. They block hot sun, damaging winds, snow and heavy rain. Without trees, soils bake and are washed away by water erosion, leaving a lifeless moonscape.
Trees are air conditioners that do not use electricity. Water evaporating from leaf surfaces removes heat energy from the air, therefore cooling it.
A project by North Carolina State University contends that evaporation for one tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help grow their tissues, and at the same time release oxygen. Cars and trucks spew carbon dioxide along our streets and highways while roadside trees absorb it and give off life-giving oxygen.
Some research suggests one large tree releases enough oxygen to keep four people breathing each day.
Carbon is considered a main cause of global warming but we can never plant enough trees to counter the world’s rising carbon levels. Trees are doing their part by absorbing tons of carbon dioxide but they can only do so much. It is up to us to figure out how to reduce our carbon emissions, and we are working on that.
Trees also are teachers who give us lessons on living. When we see them burdened by freezing rain, or clinging to life on a rocky slope, or fighting drowning waters in a flooded area they teach us about tenacity and endurance and resisting any urge to give in.
Trees of course are rooted to one spot and cannot move, giving the message that you must carry on the best you can with the situation you are given.
Another important lesson we find in trees is the importance of strong roots. Understanding our roots and drawing strength from them helps us stay firm against the many tempests life hurls at us.
Also, trees teach us that nothing ever should be wasted. Even dead leaves and branches serve a purpose, decaying to provide soils with nutrients needed for sustaining life.
Above all other lessons trees teach us about community. Forests are communities of trees, which science is beginning to show communicate and help each other.
Just as no tree is a forest, no person is a community. There are a lot of people, certainly many business and political leaders, who should look into the forest and think hard on that.