We moved along the trail by the creek, drawn to each other to talk, and walk in matching gait, freed from arbitrarily assigned chat rooms. Sitting in a circle under the trees, wind ruffling hair, stroking bare arms and legs, we absorbed the company of whole people, who we had come to know only as faces in blocks of screens. Before parting, we shared a handful of under-tree loam and inhaled the rich promising fragrance that stirred stories deep in our bodies. Refreshed and content, we went back to our other reality.
Spending time in and with Nature is one recommended way for activists to deal with exhaustion and burnout. Sometimes this can involve a collective action. Some Chapter members have worked planting trees with the Texas Tree Foundation and experienced the great pleasure that comes from putting trees in the ground in places that do not have any. We know that this is an important component of our work to mitigate the effects of climate change. We all have our favorite tree-planting organization *(See Notes). In another collective action, we can effortlessly support planting trees where they are most needed through Ecosia, a free browser that sends 80% of ad revenues to fund tree-planting. I’ve used this browser for a couple of years and on those days, feeling that I haven’t accomplished much to help the planet, I am consoled by knowing that at least I helped plant more than 400 trees just from clicking. Although we climate activists understand the importance of trees for scientific reasons, their significance goes even deeper in our collective history.
The sacred fig and banyan trees occur in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism; the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Christianity and Judaism. Trees are valued by a number of Native American peoples who tended forests long before the settlers arrived. The Sky Tree appears in Hungarian myth, Yggdrasil for the Vikings, and there are cosmic trees in Persian, Micronesian and Mayan mythology. In Africa, the baobab and the sycamore fig are revered. *** An African proverb has it that “Wisdom is like a baobab tree, no one individual can embrace it.”
Tree Prayer by Mkellen Some tree species live for thousands of years and there’s a much-visited yew in Wales that is 4000 years old. Everyone has their personal story about trees, or even one special tree. Here’s mine! As far back as I can remember I have loved trees. When trouble loomed in my childhood, I retreated to my special place to be held by its boughs, to rest my cheek against the smooth bark and feel reassured that everything would be all right again. My mother thought the reason I would run away to climb “my tree “was because when I was a tiny baby, sheregularly put me out to lie under the trees for the “fresh” air. I try to imagine sometimes, how it was to gradually focus my infant eyes and begin to see the sunlit patterns of leaves against a blue sky. Just trying to imagine it blows my mind.
When, as an adult, I was called a tree-hugger, I smiled and agreed. If it was meant as an insult, I knew my detractors didn’t get it… They didn’t know what I learned as a child, that trees hug you back. Sitting beneath the branches, even today, there’s a secure feeling of being supported by tree-roots and the ground. Ismile at the occasional drip of water sent to remind us of the tree’s presence. Years ago, when I was struggling with internal burns from a chemotherapy reaction, I liked to go to the nearby redwoods. One day, feeling dispirited and hopeless, I was drawn to enter a large opening in the scorched, emptied hulk of an enormous redwood. I remember sadly stroking the smooth charcoaled interior of its trunk and wondered at the damage that split open the doorway through which I walked into its interior. That day I felt comforted to know that we shared this terrible experience and it lessened my loneliness, in which pain has a way of encapsulating us. After dozing there and feeling rested enough to limp back to the house, I stood beside the tree and glanced up in farewell. I expected sadly to see more proof that the tree was dead. Instead I saw that the branches far above me were thickly greened. Even burned how it was, my redwood was still alive and growing. Amazed and grateful, I was inspired to resume my struggle towards health. After recovery, I set out to plant trees – 15 fruit trees in my garden- volunteering with TreePeople, I helped plant trees in stark Los Angeles streets and learned how to tend and nurture trees. I took great pleasure at following the work of people like Wangaari Mathai who, among many accomplishments, was responsible for encouraging women to plant 20 million trees in 3 African countries. Those trees changed the lives of generations. Last fall, after the fires had retreated, I returned to visit the redwoods.
My heart broke as I walked through the toppled carcasses of young trees, recent fire casualties that would never make it into the accounting of losses. But I feel their loss!
I picked up small pieces of bark, now burned into charcoal, and drew a memorial to them.
I knew we had to continue to plant and nurture trees. Reading about people like Reverend Father Asanterabi, who arranged for millions of trees planted in Tanzania and Haidar el Ali who inspired local citizens to help him plant 152 million mangrove buds in Senegal gives me hope. I live in a Texas suburb now, where what you plant is dictated by an HOA. We are lucky to have many street trees here. Yet I am aware that on unshaded city streets, residents suffer terribly from heat. So trees and tree-planting are also involved in Climate Justice. Until I can plant trees here, I donate to help plant them in other places. (See Notes) And I take a little pleasure in knowing that every time I click on my browser ** I contribute towards reforestation around the world. If all 250 of us in the DFW Chapter used Ecosia** (Did I say it is a free download?) – think how many trees we can contribute, while we are preparing ourselves for action. We can do it! Trees have always helped us and our ancestors – now they need our help.
Words and Pictures by Maureen Kellen-Taylor, PhD.
* Tree-related Web Sites
** Ecosia: The CO2 footprint of an average search is estimated at 0.2 grams, but Ecosia built their own solar plants to supply the clean energy to power their searches. By planting trees and offsetting its energy use with renewables, a search using Ecosia actually removes 1 kilogram of CO2 from the air.
***(according to Wikipedia)