/The trees of our lives

The trees of our lives

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

’m in the woods looking for white spots that might be fuzzy pussy willow catkins, a true sign of spring. I see a couple of white spots, but unfortunately they are lingering patches of melting snow.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places but it is May and I have yet to find any blooming pussy willows. I’m guessing they are hiding, peeking nervously out at the cold, wet gloom that is this year’s spring.

They are not alone. Many trees north of the Barrie-Orillia region have yet to bud, despite this being the first week of May.

Some buds began to appear a week or so ago, but have yet to break open and produce the leaves that are vital to the lives of trees.

Buds contain a light sensitive cell that detects when there is enough daylight and warmth for leaves to survive. During this year’s gloomy spring there has not been enough sunlight for that cell to tell buds to begin making leaves.

Leaves are incredibly important to the trees on which they grow and to other parts of nature, ourselves included. They are a tree’s main organ for capturing sunlight and turning it into food that produces healthy forests.

The wild temperature fluctuations we have experienced this spring are confusing and stressful to trees. Late spring frosts are unlikely to kill a tree but below normal temperatures and lack of sunlight can harm new growth and set back a tree’s development.

Anything that reduces development of trees or their numbers should cause serious concern. Trees provide us the two most important elements of life – food in the form of fruits, nuts and syrups, and the oxygen that we breathe.

Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, too much of which causes global warming and is dangerous to human health. The U.S. agriculture department estimates that one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. That’s enough oxygen to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

Tree leaves also filter the air, capturing dust and unhealthy pollutants, then see them washed into the ground when it rains.

Our trees are key climate controllers. They help cool the planet during heat waves and shield us from rain, snow and wind. Their roots hold soil in place, preventing erosion.

And of course they provide food and shelter for birds and animals.

Those are all physical ways that trees make life possible. Equally important to me are the spiritual effects of trees.

Trees show us majestic beauty – glorious blooms in spring, spectacular colours in autumn. Their beauty calms us, enhancing our lives by displaying the wonders of our world.

Trees also are teachers. They bend in wicked winds and other punishing elements, showing us the importance of being strong and resilient.

Every day they display something that we humans have much difficulty understanding – diversity and its importance to all life on earth. 

Last year the National Academy of Sciences published a study calculating there are more than 73,000 species of trees on earth. These trees have different shapes, sizes, smells and colours, but unlike humans they do not allow differences to create prejudices or discrimination.

Trees seem to understand that they cannot fulfill their purposes in life without accepting each other and working together. They look after each other, sharing sugars, other nutrients and information through mysterious underground networks.

Perhaps this is why trees have lifespans many times longer than humans. 

Their longer life spans allow them to do things at a more leisurely, thoughtful pace. Humans, with their shorter life spans, tend to do things at a panic pace, often creating problems for themselves.

There is much we can learn from trees. 

One of the most important lessons is not to take trees for granted. They are much more than logs for our industries; much more than wood for splitting and burning.

We will continue to cut trees for our own purposes, but should do so with respect and only when cutting is truly necessary and not excessive. Never because a tree is blocking a view or because we consider it useless or ugly.

There is no such thing as a useless or ugly tree.