Three things to love about trees on National Tree Day
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“We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.”
- Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
Elk Island National Park, AB - Bison graze in the forest beyond as I walk through long grasses, hunting trees. I’m at Elk Island National Park, where most people (myself included) usually come with the purpose of seeing North America’s biggest land mammal. This September though, which marks the 10th anniversary of National Tree Day, I am here to spend time with trees. While I’m used to spending a lot of time in the backcountry, consciously paying attention to the trees is grounding in a way I haven’t experienced before. A feeling of peace settles upon me.
You can see the same silent awe in the faces of people visiting The Big Tree Trail (pictured above), in the ancestral forests of the Tla-o-qui-aht people of the West Coast. The reverence their culture has for trees, and their mission to protect them that has led to over 30 years of environmental leadership on Vancouver Island, is world-changing. (You can learn more about the Tla-o-qui-aht nation's stewardship efforts here.)
At the end of the day we all know why trees are important to us and to the earth. But on Sept 22, National Tree Day, here are a few more reasons to love trees and take a pause to appreciate one of earth’s oldest, most benevolent species.
Trees are intelligent
You may have heard of Mother Trees, the ancient trees in old growth forests that can communicate with potentially thousands of other trees through an underground system known as the mycorrhizal network. Trees, it turns out, have a form of selective community.
They may even be sentient, suggests Peter Wholleben in The Hidden Life of Trees. A tree knows when it is time to be new, to age and to die. It knows how to live in its lifecycle. As Wendell Berry points out in the quote that leads off this article, there is much we can learn from the intelligent design of trees.
Tree climbing frees the kid inside
When was the last time you climbed one? Be careful of course, for the tree’s sake and your own. But tree climbing is one of the greatest joys I remember from childhood and I know many share the same sentiment. I still indulge in tree climbing every now and then and it is every bit as satisfying as when I was 10.
In recent years, this simple form of recreation has become a popular niche sport, too, meaning you can rediscover the joy of climbing trees in a whole new way. There’s everything from guided tree climbing to international sport climbing competitions, like King of the Canopy (featured in the video below).
Forests help us find zen
Call it forest bathing or nature therapy, forests have the ability to restore our balance in an urban world. It’s not just their beauty or their colours - the glowing yellow larch, the burnished red maple, the neon green aspen in spring - it’s the sound of the breeze through their leaves, the scent of spruce and cedar.
We forget sometimes to stop and to listen, and to breathe. National Tree Day is a reminder to embrace trees again.
So, this National Tree Day, go forth into the forest, climb a tree (or hug it), touch its bark, feel the leaves, smell the rich scents of the forest and listen to the stories this ancient species has to tell. Perhaps, if we spend a little more time in the forest, we will learn to grow a little more like trees.
WAYS TO CELEBRATE NATIONAL TREE DAY
- Plant a tree at one of 12 nation-wide National Tree Day events listed on Tree Canada’s website
- Visit your local forest. Be sure to treat it with respect and leave no trace!
- Support Tree Canada conservation efforts.
- Read and share a book about trees - some of my favourites (for all ages) include: Wangari’s Trees of Peace, Jeanette Winter; Empire of the Beetle, Andrew Nikiforuk; Listening to Trees, A.K. Hellum; and of course, The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
- Climb a tree or get above the canopy at an aerial park and soak in the beauty.
- Learn tree identification. If you need help getting started, try an app like LeafSnap, supported in Canada by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.