Learning to appreciate trees
I know that for most of you it might be hard to imagine how a person wouldn’t appreciate trees. I mean they provide shade and shelter. Color, beauty and various ecological services. Most of us know that forests and trees serve many meaningful purposes for humanity, and for the other life that shares the planet with us. But there is a whole lot more to the story of trees than this.
Here on Hidden Springs farm at the foot of Sauratown mountain, North Carolina, we are fortunate to be surrounded on 3 sides by trees in their native habitat. Forest. This has provided an ideal location to practice a technique that has really helped us to feel appreciation for trees. Learning to identify at least some of them by their bark in the winter.
The many aspects of tree bark
Leaves can be relatively easy tools for identifying trees, as can fruits and nuts, but bark is something altogether different. If you really want to get to appreciating trees, spending time with them, and particularly with their bark, is the way to go. For instance, which of the following is the pine tree, and which the dogwood?
How do they both compare to this white oak?
It doesn’t really matter if you know the answer. The point is to pay attention to the differences. And there are a lot, even though at first you may not see all of them.
Think about color and texture. Consider patterns and variations in pattern. Do any of these barks look flakey? Is anything other than bark growing on the trunks?
These are all questions one can answer by just looking, but if you’re out there with the trees in person, you can also touch, taste and smell them. You’ll notice differences … I promise.
Our connection to trees
I was doing that very thing one fine fall day in the forest when I had an experience that changed my perspective on forests and trees completely ( read more about it on the blog ). The experience reminded me that humans were once much more closely connected to trees than we are today. This is particularly true in cities and suburban settings where a yard of shorn grass, if you are lucky enough to have even that, is prized above the rightful claim the remaining trees have on their little patches of Earth.
As we hike around our “backyard” here at Hidden Springs it is hard not to appreciate the tenacity of the old growth chestnut oaks and gnarled sourwood. The patches of rhododendron and occasional grizzled pine. We think about the communication systems that still exist here underground, highways of information traveling throughout the relatively undisturbed rock-strewn slopes stretching up behind our home.
Not so in the city where most trees are plopped into place in isolation without neighbors. Impermeable surfaces below their crowns disable even the indirect communication that happens when water dripping off the leaves conveys warning of environmental pollutants in the air. These individual plants have no hope of experiencing the communion that exists when trees are allowed to grow in diverse systems, roots all intermingled, comforted by the information floating between them whether as pheromones on the wind, or carried from oak root to mulberry in the energized matrix of the living soil.
So what can we do? The short answer is, we can engage. We can communicate our appreciation for trees by spending time with them. The same way we show our appreciation for family and friends. And just like with our human relationships, it pays to take some time to really learn what the trees are saying in a forest. You might be surprised what you discover, as you develop a deep appreciation for the trees.