Tree Huggers in the City

One day I looked out my window to see a woman with her arms around the old maple tree in front of my house. When I stepped out my door, she explained she has just had breast cancer surgery and, “It feels like healing here.”

Research has shown that those who look out on a tree from their hospital window heal faster than those with no such view. Perhaps this woman sensed that if looking at a tree is healing, touching it might be more healing still. Each day for several days she came to hug this tree while her husband stood by.

A few days after she ceased coming, there was another woman with her arms around this tree. “I just had shoulder surgery”, she told me, “And this tree is just the right height to stretch my arm”. She also came with a male partner who stood by. Then they, like the other couple, turned and walked back to wherever they had come from.

I wouldn’t have picked these couples out of an ordinary crowd at say, a movie theater. I certainly wouldn’t have looked at the women and declared, “These are the women who will stop on a city sidewalk to hug a tree”. In their similarity with any of us, their actions sign a recognition that lies in each of us as well — no matter how deeply it may be buried in the trappings of modern life. That is a recognition that we belong to the natural web of life—and some generously rooted thing in that web might have the power to heal our wounds.

As a street tree, the roots of this particular tree are confined by a cement sidewalk on one side and the street on the other. In such a position in the world, it does more than thrive– it flourishes. So do its green companions. In its leaf mold, naturalized flowers bloom in a riot of color every spring and I watch strollers stop to enjoy them. Later in the year, children from a nearby day care linger in the shade under this tree on their walk to a local park. Passing workers park under the tree to enjoy their lunch.

Under the canopy of this tree, walkers sometimes stop to ask me about what grows in my yard. It is thus children learn to pluck the grape kiwis that hang on my front trellis or chew fennel seeds in the herb garden by the street. When I see a father stop to test the kiwis for ripeness as his son watches, something essential pass between father and son with the tree as a guardian angel in this process.

Providing succor is something trees have done for us for as many generations as we have been human. This tree continues this great tradition among trees as it creates community between neighbors and strangers on my city street. It unites us in a common language, showing us that a shared world is a richer one.

But to understand this language, we must let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world—give in to our impulse to lean on a tree. We must abandon our human separateness—our human smallness for something larger.

Above all, we must drop the notions that set us apart from the natural world—ideas like “survival of the fittest.” The ancient peoples of the Pacific Northwest where I now live saw things differently. “The eyes of the world are looking at you,” Chehalis elder Henry Cultee told me. His elders taught him that it was these multiple eyes of natural life that determine our longevity, as persons and as a people.

What his people anciently knew, modern ecologists are just now learning. In any ecological niche, including the one in a contemporary city, interdependence not only enhances the quality of our lives—it ensures our survival. If we really want to use the word, “survival of the fittest”, we must understand “fittest” in true survival terms—in terms of how we “fit” within natural systems.

Perhaps we might even learn to shelter other humans who share this earth with us as does the tree in front of my house.

You are welcome to link to this post;  note, however, it is copyright 2008, Madronna Holden. Feel free to email me if you wish to use it.

529 Responses

  1. Dr. Holden,

    This is a beautiful story of how important it is to be close to nature and respect it. It is almost like the tree gave those people you came upon it a new life and a sense of happiness and protection. When I was younger my grandmother, who has since passed away, used to grow orchids. Everytime I saw her with the orchids she would be singing or talking to them. And I asked her why do you talk and sing to your orchids? And she said because it makes them happy and it makes them grow. At the time I didn’t not understand, but now that I am older I now understand why she sang and talked to the orchids. They were like her little children that she loved and respected and wanted to make happy so they would grow beautiful flowers. It is a simple story that I often think about because I love orchids and have a few in my house that I sing and talk to because it makes them happy and it makes them grow. What joy a simple plant can bring!

    Thank you,
    Lindsay

  2. What a lovely way to honor your grandmother’s memory as well, Lindsay.

  3. I found this article to be an uplifting example of our inherent connection to the natural world and the peace and healing that can be found through this union. This relationship reminds us that we are only one component of a much larger and more complex fabric that is designed to work in tandem to create balance. The Western worldview however, continually sees the natural world as dualistic (class notes, p. 21). This worldview only serves to separate humans from the natural world and facilitates a false sense of control. This “survival of the fittest” ideal, as it is historically known, should not be about domination over the environment. Rather, the “fittest” should be those who can cohabitate and impact the natural world in a positive way. We can benefit in so many ways if and when we begin to reconnect with our “roots” in the natural world.

  4. Thanks for this comment, Kate. I was very touched by these women and I think you are right about the ways in which we are meant to work in tandem with the natural world.
    I really appreciate the ways in which you tied your discussion to particular worldviews and values. Indeed, we are not making ourselves as a species very fit for survival at present, in the ways in which we treat our environment. It is time to understand, as you also point out, that what we do to our natural environment, we do to ourselves, since we are not separate, in spite of our dualistic worldview. And for those who are reading this comment and wondering about the worldview contrasts we are discussing, you can find it here on this site in a pdf file:
    https://holdenma.wordpress.com/culture-and-environment/

  5. I think there is something about big, old trees in particular that draws the curiousity of people. Maybe we are in awe of the tree’s resiliance, the ability to survive for many years through good and bad weather. It is sturdy, yet flexible enough to bend when it needs to. I think we admire that quality, and strive for that quality in ourselves.

    I also think that you are right about people knowing at their core that we are all connected to nature, no matter how deeply that bond has been buried within us. Many of us spend so much of our day surrounded by artificial things-computers, t.v.’s, cars, our homes and offices- that we forget how good it feels to let ourselves experience our bond with nature.

    People not only benefit from the healing qualities of communing with nature, but can actually become ill if they are separated from it. Think of all of the cases of seasonal depression that arise from people who leave their home in the early morning darkness to go to work, and return home in the dark of the evening, having spent little or no time outdoors day after day. Nature feeds our bodies and souls.

  6. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for your comment. If you are right (and I think you are) about the links between illness and separation from nature, there is much we need to do in modern society to get back to wellness in our interconnected world.
    I think you absolutely right that nature “feeds” us. Such bountiful nurturance exists for us– all we have to do is receive and honor (and help preserve) the gift.

  7. I have always been especially drawn to trees. When I was a kid my nickname from my dad was “Monkey” because I could always be found climbing trees. I liked the different perspective I had from above the ground, the sound of the wind in the leaves, and the feeling of being inside something, or part of some large living thing. I’ve often thought that if I ever got a tattoo, it would be a tree, with the trunk running up my spine and the branches and leaves spreading across my shoulders. Photography is a hobby of mine (bit of a passion really) and I have many pictures, just of trees. I don’t know if I can attach them here but I’d be happy to share some with anyone who is interested.

    I think there is something about trees that resonates with people. Their deep-rooted groundedness, their strength and nobility, their ability to sway and bend with changing winds. Tolkien wrote of trees that walked and talked, guardians of the forest who looked out for growing things and had kinship ties with those who respectfully lived within the boundaries of the forest.

    This story is another example of the innate draw we feel to these noble creatures. It seems perfectly natural and right for a breast cancer survivor to embrace the tree. It is what I imagine I would do, if it were me. The tree draws its strength and energy from the earth, from flowing waters, from the sun…..and it gives to us, not only in life-giving oxygen, or shade, or healing medicines, but in our very being. We are related to the trees, I believe. We too are rooted to this earth. We should learn from them, and stand still more and listen and breathe as they do.

  8. Hi Tracy, thank you for a profound and moving statement. I love the statement about the way we are related to trees.
    It is obvious that you learned something from the trees you spent time in as a child.

  9. I too believe that big, old trees are a spark to curiosities. There are so many stories that use the old trees as story tellers. They’re around longer than the average human life and I think that gives some people a sense of security. It’s interesting that patients who are able to look out their windows to see trees heal faster than those that can’t. One of my dogs is a therapy dog and they achieve the same results. I think the dogs give the sick or injured a sense of joy and security. It’s absolutely amazing to watch their faces light up when the dog enters the room and to watch them touch the animals and pet them with the expression that nothing can bother them is awesome. Both of these examples show how interconnected we all are with nature. Some people just need to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life to realize it.

  10. Indeed, Renee. Thanks for adding your example of the dog (and creating this occasion for healing by keeping and training this dog).
    It certainly makes sense to me that if we became human in the natural world, the presence of its life and beauty is healing for us.
    I like your idea about interconnection and taking a break to realize it– it is lovely weather here in Oregon today and I hope you are able to take a break to enjoy the same wherever you are.

  11. There is a drive I take sometimes, a road that winds through rolling pastures spotted with old oak trees. It is only about a 20 minute drive, but it regenerates me. Just driving under the shade of hanging canopies, I feel renewed. I understand what the women felt when hugging that tree. It is one of those lessons that nature helps to teach us. The oak teaches us how to be strong, how to bend with time and circumstance, but not break. When life has worn me down, I drive through those wise old oak and I am reminded of how I am just a young sapling. Maybe someday though, somewhere in the mix of the times of hardship and the times of happiness I too will grow into a wise oak.

  12. What an eloquent and touching response, Tami. I can’t think of a lovelier goal for any of us.

  13. It is so true how a tree, even in an urban environment can bring a sense of nature to what otherwise is a manmade environment.

    When I was in the hospital (OHSU) for 5 days due to a hand injury it was incredible how lonely it was even though I was constantly surrounded by nurses, family, and other patients. I often found myself walking out of the orthepedics ward, and escaping to a series of winows that overlooked a greenspace. Although I could not touch the grass or lay down in it, and I couldn’t rest at the foot of one of the immense trees, seeing nature made me feel so much better, so much more alive. Every few hours I would get out of my hospital bed, make my way to these windows and let the sunshine hit my face.

    So however odd it is to hear someone say that hugging a tree makes them feel better, after being in a hospital environment, I can definitely understand why.

  14. Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Justin. It seems that turning to the natural world for this kind of comfort/healing may be more common than we usually notice– even in modern Western society.

  15. I love this story. I have had to heal several times in my life, but I have yet to hug a tree. I do paint however, and my paintings are almost always of trees. I am drawn to their unique roots and trunks. I portray them in a more surrealist fashion, I make them my own. Art has a healing power like that of nature.
    I heard of an experiment once where some elderly people in a rest home were given a plant to watch after while the others didn’t receive one. The people who had plants to take care of lived longer than those who had none. I believe humans and nature are meant to care for each other.

  16. I agree that art heals as nature does, Johni. I can imagine that your art is very powerful.
    Check out my response to a comment on the healing power of beauty: https://holdenma.wordpress.com/2008/10/23/gilgamesh-and-other-pioneers-in-paradise/#comments,
    I like your last line here especially.

  17. Wow, what a touching story… I’ve never heard of “Research has shown that those who look out on a tree from their hospital window heal faster than those with no such view”. But that statement can encourage patients and non-patients to take a moment and look out what’s around them and what they are missing in their daily lives since people believe in researches and data bases more than just theory now days. Maybe the reason why there are so many sick people whether it’s physically or emotionally is because we don’t give ourselves opportunity to take a moment and enjoy the nature. I believe the number of depression or emotional problems have increased because of busy schedules and hectic lives. But I think that if people believe in their ability to be healed or can do anything, they can achieve whatever they want. Such discouragment and negative thoughts can bring one down. I’ve had my ups and downs and everytime I brought myself back up, I realize I become strong through it and when I find myself enjoy with just what’s around me rather than materistic things, I see myself happier.

  18. This article is powerful and very true. The fact that nature has the power to heal us should not be surprising. We are all connected and the divine flows through each and every living thing including the Tree Beings that are more than open to send forth their healing energy when we are open to receive it. When we choose to fit into the environment around us and see ourselves as one with her it would be evident that the theory of control, domination, and manipulation of our environment for self ish purposes is not only wrong but in essence irrational in terms of sustainability. The women who hugged the trees recognized their connection with nature but more so that when we are sick mother earth desires to heal us if only we would be in relationship with her. What normal mother would not want to heal their children if they are ill. There is healing all around us. Indeed nature is alive and full of love if only we would embrace it. When we formulate relationships with our environment indeed we formulate and solidify relationships with each other. The progressive woundedness of mother earth through Western Ideological dualism is a reflection of disharmony within the people that see it necessary to wound, isolate, and use the earth for personal greed should only expand the necessity of each one of us to do internal cleansing so that our environment can be healed and restored.

  19. HI Jenna, thanks for your comment. I am glad that you are finding your through to taking care of yourself in this way: just think if we could begin to design (and yes, engineer, since that is your chosen profession) it in such a way that we were encouraged to connect with the natural world in this way. In some hospitals and nursing homes (and schools) there are no green views to take advantage of.
    Of course, this also takes motivation in our personal lives.
    I am encouraged by the new moment to get children out into nature, for instance. (as in No Child Left Inside movement taken up by many readers of the book with this title).

  20. Frances, what a powerful statement! You have eloquently summed up the healing vision of where we need to go–and the worldviews of dualism and domination that have set us in a disastrous wrong-headed direction in the first place.
    Thank you for sharing both heart and spirit with us here.

  21. I think it is in our instinct to relate big, old trees to wisdom and knowledge. I grew up with this huge fir tree in my front yard and appreciated its existence. The tree was part of the landscaping of our house as well as part of the land. I couldn’t help but think what the land looked like when this tree fir tree was a sapling. Since it was the Hillsboro/Aloha area, I assume it was all forest and this fir tree as a remnant of that forest. I grew up going on camping trips for family vacations and absolutely loved walking around the dense forests near the Wilson River. I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the diverse ecosystem and feel lucky that I had the opportunity to escape city life to be part of the forest. I could actually feel the sacredness of these trees, shrubs, and ivy. I felt I was part of something bigger and it was so great I couldn’t comprehend it. I felt peaceful and content. The forest filled a void in my heart that I can’t describe. The forest made me whole.

    I attended Chapman University in Southern California my first year in college. I remember walking down the sidewalk with friends and passing by a large maple tree on our way to class. I used to hug the tree whenever we passed it because it reminded me of home in the Pacific Northwest. My friends, most from Southern California, would laugh at me when I did this. I would pick up a leaf from the ground and hand it to a friend saying, “This is a piece of my home.” Of course my friend would drop it, not understanding the importance trees were to me. I feel growing up in Portland helped me understand how trees play an intricate part in our lives. I was so used to seeing them and being around them. I was used to seeing hillsides covered in fir, pine, and deciduous trees that it was something I expected to see everywhere. In San Diego, the hillsides are bare and brown. It was so uncomfortable for me to see brown everywhere. I would often talk about the trees and landscaping of the Pacific Northwest to friends but they would look at me like I was crazy and say, “Well yea of course trees are there because it rains close to 300 days a year there.” I’ve noticed people often go to Southern California for the warm weather and beaches. People often go to the Pacific Northwest for the trees and the abundance of greenery.

    Currently I am living in Salt Lake City, Utah where we experience all the seasons of the year. We get tons of snow on the ground during the winter months and even hit 100 degree temperatures during the summer. The leaves turn their colors and fall during fall and grow back on the trees in the spring. In Salt Lake, I was able to compromise between Oregon and Southern California: I get the change of seasons of Oregon and the warm weather of Southern California (only downside is that there aren’t beaches). I feel the same connection to the landscapes and the trees as I did while residing in Oregon. I feel close to nature and feel its sacredness as I rock climb in Big Cottonwood Canyon or snowboard in Deer Valley. I frequently camp in Moab and Zion National Park during the spring and summer. The few trees there represent the will and desire to survive. Those trees and plants are able to survive in desert and dry conditions. I learned to appreciate their existence and value their strength and wisdom they possess.

    I believe we all feel connected to trees and plants. Flowers brighten our lives and produce sweet smelling aromas. Trees provide us with shade and scenic beauty. We rely on plants for medicinal purposes as well as for cooking and eating. Without trees, we wouldn’t be able to exist. They provide us with so much and we generally take trees’ wisdom and knowledge for granted. We exploit them as natural resources and treat them as obstacles as we continue to spread our homes and construction into the forests. I think our own greed prohibits us from appreciating trees for what they are: our producers, our teachers, and responsible for our survival.

  22. Thank you for sharing this homage to trees in your life, Ashley. I especially like your expression of your intimate connection to trees in making you whole and a leaf’s being a piece of your home.
    You have obviously found the green things that make a place for themselves in every ecological niche. And you sum it all up in your last line with what we owe to trees–and what we lose by not recognizing this.

  23. That sure would be weird to walk out of your house to see someone hugging your tree but it is a nice story. I like how the majority of your lectures, essays or reading assignments all seem to come back to the same premise of reciprocity. Essentially living in unison not only with nature but with each other as well. You worded it perfectly that we need to “abandon our human separateness” and “let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world.” What I’m curious is to what extent we are to let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world? I understand the basics would be to respect the environment, give more time/money/whatever we can to those less fortunate but I’m curious if you could expand on that concept. Thanks Dr. Holden!

  24. Thanks for your comment and question, Ben. For me, being vulnerable to the natural world is essential element to the environmental psychology of partnership. In any partnership, communication and mutual intimacy is fostered by the ability to lay ourselves open to our partners: that is, true partners are vulnerable to one other. I used the word “vulnerability” for this in this essay in order to provide the strongest contrast possible to the idea of domination or control as a stance toward the natural world. And in effect, I think this is nothing but the bald truth of the matter: we are in fact vulnerable to the natural world. This is something Chehalis elder Henry Cultee expressed when he spoke of the understanding that the length of human lives on earth is judged by the other natural lives we share with our own: “the eyes of the earth are looking at you” is an eloquent metaphor for the fact that our lives depend on how the rest of nature “sees” us– how we fit in. This is a very differently idea than the usual ways we interpret “survival of the fittest” –and incidentally, more in keeping with Darwin’s original idea (he focused on cooperation within natural systems) than the “social Darwinism” Herbert Spencer fabricated to justify hierarchy in human societies.
    And just as an aside, there is an astute discussion of the necessity of effective leaders being vulnerable to those they lead in a business context in Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art.
    I only hope we acknowledge our vulnerability to natural systems in time to shape a sustainable lives for ourselves–and for the other life that shares our world with us.

  25. In this article I found not only what seems to be true to ensure survival in nature but what I believe is true to ensure survival in modern societies; the recognition of interdependence. I believe that the phrase used at the beginning of the essay, “the recognition that we belong to the natural web of life” , applies to more than just our connection with the natural world.
    Because of the way our minds are conditioned as we grow up we often disregard the importance of the natural world and rather give emphasized importance to a materialized world.
    I hate using myself as an example but before taking this course i had forgotten about identifying myself with the natural world. I believe that humans in western cultures are fascinated with plants and animals only because of plant’s ethereal qualities (their beauty), rather than being fascinated with plants because we (humans) respect nature !

  26. I have to admit that I feel a certain tranquility when I walk through a forest or take a stroll through my local botanical gardens. It’s a strange connection that I think all humans feel. We are drawn to the natural, to our roots, so to speak. I have a hard time imagining that there is a person alive who doesn’t feel the peace that comes from looking at a piece of nature–whether it’s a tree displaying all the colors of the season on a sidewalk in a city, or looking out over the unspoiled beauty of nature. For generations, humans have used not only the physical spoils of nature, such as herbs, to heal our ills, but the spirituality of nature has always provided humans a connection between our mortality and our spirits, a connection that is key to the health of our bodies and souls. The stories of the ladies hugging the tree is lovely. I think all of us have felt the urge to give a looming tree a big hug, or lie down in the grass and let the blade caress us at one point or another. It’s the most beautiful thing about human nature. No matter the ills that we inflict on one another, and the ways that we abuse our environment, we all feel that connection to our planet, our home, and it’s time that we all take that feeling out of our subconscious and acknowledge it again.

  27. Interesting thoughts about the distinction between a true respect for natural life and seeing it as ethereal (rare? in modern industrialized society), Dan. I hope that we can recover the worldview in which the ethical treatment of the natural world is consciously linked to pragmatism– the knowledge and actions that allow us to survive.
    The value of interdependence is key here. Thanks for bringing this up.

  28. In order for our lives to be incorporated with the lives of our surrounding nature, the idea of “survival of the fittest” needs to never be used. If hugging a tree is considered to be weird in our world, then we as humans need to look at our views of the world as a whole. The trees are an essential part of our lives. If there are no trees, the oxygen levels in the atmosphere will drop beyond the possible levels of human existance. To hug a tree is to embrace the keystone to our survival. I have found myself hugging a tree before without prior intentions. After I stepped back and thought about it, I realized that I had embraced the closest thing to a physical God that humans will ever see.

  29. A powerful perspective and experience. Thanks for sharing it! I really liked the description of hugging a tree as “to embrace the keystone of our survival”. Your last sentence is an eloquent one as well.

  30. This is a very powerful way of thinking. I love the idea that nature heals us and I had no idea about the research showing that people with a tree outside of their window healed faster than those who did not but I can really see how it would. Trees, and other wildlife, give us hope by showing how things can grow and heal themselves from many diseases or injuries. For example, many trees can grow around an injured/diseased area to create a knot in the tree. Others split when there is a trauma to a branch. A favorite view of a tree that I have is when a tree is cut down and another tree begins to grow out of the center of the stump. Trees have an amazing life force around them that gives hope to others. I believe that too often people get caught up in what is proper and therefore they are not willing to do the things that they want to do or that feel natural. However, people that embrace nature (even physically as the women in your story did) seem to have better lives. People seem most happy when they can roll down a grassy hill, play in the sand, climb a tree, etc. If people were willing to treat nature as a friend, like they did as a child, they would have a much better relationship with nature and possibly be much more protective over it than they are now.

  31. This is a fantastic story. It reminds me of stories that my coworker Suzie Conway tells me and how she explains the interconnectedness of all forms of life. Stories that she has told me of the power of healing usually involve animals. Much like the above story they speak of the simple yet strong connection between people, healing, and the surrounding world. I feel that if more people took the time in which to observe their surrounding environment and find what could heal them or what they could in turn heal that the world would be in a much better place at the moment. It is amazing to think of the possible ways of healing that are around us. And not just a healing from disease or surgery but a rejuvination of the spirit everyday. I also like the ending idea of survival of the fittest. Being a biology student I have always been told that survival of the fittest means that the organism with the most offspring will be known as the most successful. However, I like this articles approach much better, that it in fact does not deal with the individual its self but how that particular individual fits into their surrounding environment. I think that this is a much more accurate meaning for the phrase “survival of the fittest”

  32. It was very touching story… and actuary it reminds me one of my best friend.
    We’ve been friends since we were in junior high school, and last time I saw her was couple of years ago, when she has just found out that she got pregnant at that time. We went out to one of the park along ocean near Tokyo, and she hugged a large tree standing there letting her belly and her ear appressed to the tree. I asked what’s she doing, and she said “making my child to listen to the heart-beat of the earth, so she will be a healthy, kind, lovely child.”
    Also, in my country, when someone who you know (friend, family member, etc.) become sick or had injury, we bring (or send, if the person live very far) flowers and/or small plants as a get-well gift. It is a kind of common practice to do so, and I don’t know people now actually think about the natural healing power when they bring these flower and plants, but I think this custom may have started because our ancestors knew through their experience that plants have natural healing power.
    And I also think that people plant trees and flowers in their yard and along side walks even in cities to make the town look beautiful, and the ideas of “trees and flowers in town, along side walks are beautiful” are coming from inconscient desire for natural healing.
    Although western world view is now “majority” among modern people in this country, I often think that there are more people who truly understanding “fitttest”(or “fit”) in terms of how we “fit” withing natural systems compare to people in my country (especially people in big cities). Reading this blog entry made me think anew about importance to learn true meaning of “survival of the fittest”, to be sensitive to the language of nature, and to share these ideas with other people (and/or passing it to younger generations).

  33. Hi Ashley, thanks for your thoughtful and caring comment. We need people in biology with your perspectives!
    It sounds like your co-worker has some great stories to share!

  34. Hi Miki,
    Thanks for sharing the touching personal story of your friend–and the practices of your culture.
    I’m glad this idea of “fittest” makes sense to you.

  35. What a comforting thought that your tree providing a healing of sorts to random people drawn to it. I believe in the healing properties of trees and that they also work to heal one another. I have one of the few Dutch elms remaining in our city. Our majestic one in the front yard succumbed to Dutch elm disease 21 years ago. This young one has hidden in the back yard and I believe has been protected by the Siberian elms in our neighbor’s yard. Our community is currently trying to save ash trees from the ash borer by cutting down and removing what seem to be healthy trees. Perhaps it is time to resurrect the rituals of honoring, not just trees, but all forms of life. Perhaps if we shared our healing ability with them, as they do with us, they would find the strength to fight the diseases that assault them without being destroyed by radical human approaches that are currently used.

  36. Hi Kate, thank your for sharing your personal experience here. Bravo for you for having one of the surviving Dutch elms: perhaps it is a resistant strain, like the chestnuts that are resistant to blight that some botanists are working with to re-establish chestnuts in the south.
    That makes it a very special tree. One of our problems, of course, is that we are bringing in diseases from global trade to which many trees have no resistance–and which have no natural checks and balances in their current habitat.
    I would certainly second your position on a new attitude toward healing. We need not only physical but psychological healing of the broken relationships between ourselves and other humans as well as ourselves and the natural world.

  37. Your story illustrates our need to coexist with nature. I found your comment about fitting in with nature to be simple, yet effective in getting someone to think differently about survival of the fittest. The biggest and smartest don’t necessarily survive; it is those who can adapt to change.

    The metaphor of the tree as a healing source is very powerful. Each part of a tree is essential for survival. Not only for our own survival, but plants and animals, and the many other biotic and abiotic things that exist in an ecosystem surrounding a tree.

    Your story reminded me of the children’s book The Giving Tree. After giving all the tree had to the boy. The tree was still happy to be able to give the aged boy a seat of the stump. The trees know the common language we have pushed aside. We must relearn it to endure the natural world’s existence.

  38. What a wonderful story! I think that Wangari Maathai would just love that story. Trees strenghthened the women around her as well as the community around her, and so did your tree. So often, people in cities forget about nature, but it sounds like you had some really wonderful people in your neighborhood who were open to the natural experience, and who appreciated the that tree. It is amazing to me how much strength the trees have that live inbetween the sidewalks and the street. Their beauty makes the concrete bearable. That is a great example of a non-human being taking care of a human being. What a beautiful soul that tree has, and what wonderful healing powers. I am about to have surgery myself, and I am going to call to see if they have a room with a view of a tree. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Mother Earth is beautiful and wonderful and wants to take care of us if we let her.

  39. Hi Kelly.
    Healing and soul are not far apart in your comment! It is the valiant reciprocity of the natural world that as we protect her, she strengthens us.
    I wish you all the best in your surgery.

  40. Hi Ivy,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and compassionate response: obviously you know how to appreciate a tree–and your life must be richer for it.
    I liked your comment about Mathaai.

  41. I am reminded of Shel Silversein’s “The Giving Tree” when you tell of the this Maple tree has drawn people to it. I definetly have my own personal love affair with the majestic beauty of trees. In this case I fave a feeling that the tree was not alone in drawing people to this area. There are a lot of things that go into giving an area a special power and in this case part of it seems to be good stewardship. With the herb garden and whatever other welcoming plants that are being loved and cared for with the since of sharing it is no wonder that people are being drawn to this positively charged area. I applaud you for your ability to create such a wonderful place. I would also be willing to bet that the plants are also thriving on all the appreciation.

  42. Here in the PNW, we have so many trees that they are often taken for granted, even sometimes considered a nuisance – something that blocks the view and/or messes up the yard when it sheds its leaves. But trees in cities provide a much needed connection to nature for urbanites. Hugging them seems a perfectly natural thing to do. Perhaps more people could benefit from the healing power of trees by expanding their minds and giving it a try. In a way, hugging a tree can feel like hugging someone you trust, someone who will never let you down or judge you in any way. Sometimes it even feels as if the tree is hugging back. But regardless of what people think of hugging trees, they are our elders and we should respect them accordingly. Unfortunately this value has been diminished over the years in our society, as illustrated your statement, “What his people anciently knew, modern ecologists are just now learning.” We could learn a lot from our elders, both human and non-human, if we’d only pay attention.

    The other day, while stopped at a traffic light in Seattle, I took notice of some evenly spaced trees next to the sidewalk. They were planted decades ago, and their roots have grown so much that the sidewalk is now wavy from their roots pushing up on it. I smiled because it almost appeared to be a collaborative effort of the trees to break free from the concrete that was imprisoning their roots and threatening their continued growth. It was a reminder that these trees are living and breathing and growing – not something to take for granted.

  43. Hi Kari,
    Thanks for the comment. According to the “urban forest” department of the City of Eugene, you can depend on those wavy sidewalks from trees.
    Though I can understand removing a dangerous tree (that is ready to fall), I can’t see removing an inconvenient one– those that drop leaves (a wonderful bounty of mulch) or block a view or– the most obnoxious reason for removing a tree, according to a local tree service whose personnel love trees– because it was in the way of a proposed swimming pool.
    There is a great Malvina Reynolds song (a folksinger from Seattle who starting writing music when she was in her sixties:) that says, “God bless the grass that grows through the cracks, they roll the machines over it, but the grass comes back”. It is a sign of hope to me as to you–and to many who loved that song, that living things come back through the cement.
    And as for cement: the best building practices today use permeable surfaces for driveway and walkways. I don’t know if it is still true, but a few years back, cement was the thing second used by humans (after water). There is something to change.

  44. Hi Luke,
    Thank you for your kind comment. It is true that I have lived three decades here without using pesticides or taking any leaves or branches and tree limbs off the property–and planting so many thing I can’t count them (most are naturalized now), emphasizing native plants. But this place had an amazing feel even when I moved in and the landscaping consisted of lawn and English ivy (both gone now)– and these two maple trees.
    I think I am the lucky one to live in a place where things grow so willingly and so many wild things find refuge. To live surrounded by other lives is a tremendous gift!
    Having gone to school in New York City (though I grew up in Arizona and the Pacific Northwest) and lived in an area where there was nothing growing for blocks, I certainly appreciate this.

  45. I recently discovered that the “original” tree-huggers were the women involved in the Chipko movement in India. Chipko means “to embrace” in Hindi, and these women were resisting industrial forestry clear-cutting of their local forests, which they depended upon for their gathering of subsistence food, medicine, and fuel. To my knowledge, they were the first activists to put their bodies between the trees and the logging machinery in order to protect the forest. As Callicott points out in Earth Insights, their efforts were extremely successful because Indira Ghandi declared a fifteen-year moratorium on logging in that area. What would it take to get a fifteen-year moratorium on logging in the Coast Range?

    I have my own personal experience with tree-hugging. Periodically throughout my life, I have been drawn to embrace certain trees that I come upon. It’s an instinctive feeling, and I just go with it. Much like the woman recovering from breast cancer, I get a sense that there is healing there. A few summers ago, I visited the redwoods, and I was pulled toward a certain tree. I felt like the tree desired to be in relationship with me, that is wanted to have an exchange with me in a personal and specific way. I put my arms around it (well, as far as I could, anyway) and rested my cheek on its bark. Immediately, tears began pouring down my cheeks, and I heard the tree say “It’s going to be alright. Everything is going to work out.” I understood that the tree was communicating to me about the state of the world, and that Nature as a whole will still exist no matter what the coming environmental disasters are. Life will continue on this planet, but it may be very different than it is now. Just like the redwoods that are still healthy even when their trunks are hollowed out by wildfire, nature is resilient and adaptable. Life continues. Healing occurs. Trees bend in the breeze, then fall down, die, and nurse a whole forest ecosystem. It’s going to be alright.

    • Thanks for your touching personal experience, Rachel. In whatever ways trees speak to us, there is a mutual exchange here: we need them to sustain us and they need us to protect them (if only from ourselves in the modern age). There is a wonderful poem (“The Only Word a Tree Knows”) by Naomi Shihab Nye that says the “only word a tree knows is yes” and concludes, “I was born to answer a tree.”

  46. What a wonderful story. I can imagine what these women feel. Just think of how many other people may have touched it that you didn’t see. There is a lot of evidence of the power of this type of non-pharmaceutical therapy… everyone has heard that petting your dog or cat lower’s your blood pressure.

    Anyone seen the movie Fern Gully? The famous line from this animated movie about saving the rain forest is “Can’t you feel its pain?” She is trying to get a human to understand that the tree is a living, breathing co-exiting creature. Not just something standing in the way of what you want to call progress.

    I hope that our future holds many new discoveries for us in healing outside of the pharmaceutical world. Ways in which we once again become closer to nature and rediscover the healing that things such as hugging a really large tree can bring us.

  47. This article shows great examples of how trees can impact our lives, sometimes as simply as giving comfort. Trees are like sentinels bearing witness to our lives and offering support if we will open our eyes to see. On warm summer days, I have often sat in the shade of a tree to rest or eat lunch, enjoying the coolness and the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze. These are moments of peace in an otherwise hectic day, and seem to nourish the soul. Most people have had similar experiences, but perhaps not stopped long enough to recognize the significance.

  48. I admire the respect the healing people had for the tree by hugging it. I like the belief that we all belong to the natural web of life and that something in that web would have the power to heal our wounds. The tree in the city has had some constraints in its life for example the sidewalk and road, but the tree still flourishes and provides for many. I think it is nice that people give back to the tree. The tree has been a home to many animals in its life, and has connected people over generations. I wonder how long this tree has been living and what all it has experienced and witnessed, as the world around us is constantly changing.

  49. In an earlier post Ben Evans (November) was asking “to what extent we are to let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world?”

    Dr. Holden, I very much was impressed with your response to his question and it made me reflect on my study of Confucianism. To sum up what I derived to be the heart of Confucianism was that we cannot fight against nature, and that we must flow along with it accepting it’s ups and downs. I think that this Eastern philosophy could fit in very well with Ben’s question. And also to help us understand the vulnerability we experience when we really exist in this world.

    On another note, I was thinking when did being a “tree hugger” become a negative connotation in our society? I do think it is starting to be less of a negative but typically is associated with extreme environmentalist, typically activists. I think everyone should be a tree hugger! It sure seems to benefit the people who live in your neighborhood.

    • Hi Jessie, thanks for your touching personal response about our being vulnerable to the natural world. I am happy this idea made sense to you in terms of your study of the “heart of Confucianism”.
      An essential part of any relationship is the ability to share vulnerability. But the notion of “survival of the fittest” we often apply to nature doesn’t value relationship–and certainly it doesn’t value vulnerability, as I discuss on my most recent essay on this site. Your comment urged me to ponder to what extent “survival of the fittest” is a particularly Anglo-European view–since Confucianism has an emphasis on relationship that is not central in the former.
      Nice point about the negative connotations of certain terms; I’m glad this didn’t stop these women from their spontaneous response to that lovely old tree!

  50. Isn’t the power of nature amazing! I have always been drawn to the beauty of trees in the various stages of splendor of different seasons and geographical locations. I think I am beginning to understand this is something that may be ingrained in humans. Trees offer food, shelter, aesthics, emotional support and dare I say the wisdom of the past. Watching the sway of leaves in a breeze has a calming effect above almost none else. In response to the dialouge with Kari and Dr. Holden’s reply (Nov.); wavy sidewalks also show the power of the well aged vibrant tree. It also shows that left relatively unattended nature will find a way to take back the land. It takes constant vigilance on someone’s part to keep the “grass from coming back” in the cracks. As I was reading this article I was thinking about the many people who are fighting for urban gardens in order to keep nature in their lives. The benefits often outway the “risks” of these endeavors that allow for intergenerational communication and trust. Through nature we are able to link the past and the present and teach others about the future. It is hard to fathom that there are those who do not see the many values that trees and other aspects of nature bring to our lives. We are fast learning that the world in interdependent and there must be a balance and that includes within city limits. I have seen once open fields and beautiful groves of trees become apartment buildings and family homes with little or no yard. I wonder if in another 20 or 30 years these areas may be reclaimed by the magnificent force of nature.

    • Hi Colleen, thanks for your reply. There is much heart as well as insight here, as usual. It is hopeful to me that we are learning our interdependence and beginning to see the values nature brings to our lives. I especially like this statement you made: “Through nature we are able to link the past and the present and teach others about the future”. Have you heard “Mama Lion” Malvina Reynolds’ song, “God bless the grass (that grow through the cracks)?” Maybe I will put up the lyrics for the next quote of the week here.

  51. I loved this story. I truly understand what the women felt by hugging the tree. I feel that nature defenitly gives you a sence of peace. I wasnt awear of the fact that someone who was ill that has a view out a window virse no view at all heals faster. I thought that was a really interesting fact. I can see how that could be possible. I know that a lot of my childhood memories involve some type of nature. I think that a lot of people take advantage of what is around us, such as trees. They do so much for us and people take them for granted evey day. I dont know what it is .. but i love trees , I am not a flower girl! I think there is somthing about a tree the way they blow in the wind, the way they change colors there is so many things that i find so facinating about trees. This reminds me of a book i loved as a child. “The Giving Tree”. It is a great representation. I really enjoyed this article . Thank you.

    • Lovely, Meagan, thank you for sharing your love of trees. Obviously you don’t have to be a “flower child” to feel this way about trees. Look at Kenyan Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who was honored for spearheading these marvelous creatures of life in her Greenbelt Movement.

  52. Growing up in the country I never had lack of trees, flowers or green grass. It is sad that people don’t have the luxuries that I had but it is wonderful that they utilized what they do have. Nature is a wonderful thing and amazingly so it does have healing powers that bring comfort to many who need that extra little boost to carry them through. I also found it touching how these women came and hugged the tree with the men waiting for them to do what they needed.

    • It is sad that there are some who don’t have the luxury of this green life around them. I just read the statement of a young (high school) man from inner city New York who was part of a Nature Conservancy intern program for the summer. He said he was so stunned by the beauty that he had never seen before, he spent the whole day just looking at the estuary where there were to be working. Certainly it is a part of economic justice to make sure that all have access to such experiences.

  53. Street trees are vital in towns and cities here in Ohio, but they are in danger too. A few decades ago the Dutch-Elm disease wiped out the predominant street tree in most areas of Ohio, affecting both American Elms and Red Elms. The city planners went back through and many of them replanted with Ash trees. Now a new menace is coming, the Emerald Ash Borer. This non-native pest is wiping out virually all Ash trees in its path, and is spreading rapidly. I believe all Ash trees in the country are at risk, so spread the word about this foreign invader.

    I dont know about the healing properties of being around trees, but I know that I feel better when I am closer to the land. Maybe just feeling good helps these people heal more quickly. As far as the fruiting species in your yard, I am impressed with your generosity. I don’t know if I would be willing to part with that much of my produce, but would like to think that I would. The passing of knowledge of the land is something that has happened for years, and needs to keep happening to ensure the survival of our planet. The story about the man and his son checking the fruits for ripeness is a perfect example. I do the same things with my son when we work in the garden together or go out to pick wild raspberries for jam.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew. I don’t give away THAT much of my fruit on a percentage basis, since there is so much. But my eighty year old neighbor has a special place in my heart and she is so delighted with any fresh produce, it is hard to resist giving her some. I think it is a great opportunity to model the idea of where food comes from to the young people who haven’t got the news. I have one set of neighbors who were from New York City and didn’t know that they could pick raspberries or plums in their yard. But after one season, they have caught on and even helped design a cherry picker to pluck the high fruit in an cherry that grows in my yard but spreads over their fence line.
      It is a shame about all those old elms. What kinds of ash is in danger? There is “mountain ash”, a sorbus species that has clusters of red berries the birds love and here is the Northwest, there is an entirely different species of tree called ash, which is a native wetland colonizer.
      I just attended the annual celebration of the Eugene Tree Foundation and an interesting note with respect to the thousands of trees they planted was the great diversity of these trees. A speaker from a parallel foundation in Portland which has planted 375000 trees with a survival rate after five years of over 90 per cent indicated the diversity of trees they planted mimics natural settings; indeed, they have planted not only street trees but have restored habitat adjacent to streams. I am most impressed with their current participation in Portland’s “grey to green” initiative which plans to shift greyscape into greenscape in a substantial portion of formerly industrial Portland that is on riverfront.

  54. The species of Ash that the Ash Borer attacks is from the genus Fraxinous. No Ash aroun here has berries, so that may be a different type of plant. The Ash tree that I am refering to is Green Ash, White Ash, et al. This is one of Ohio’s predominant hardwoods. Toledo Ohio has done a smaller scale riverfront improvement project as well. They are trying to bring life back into the down town areas.

    • This is a variety of the local native wetland tree. The sorbus is actually a European tree, but much planted as a street tree. Thanks for clarifying this point, Andrew. The before and after pics of industrial areas where trees have been planted only two years later in cities in Oregon are amazing. It must be sad to see them go back to a treeless state. I know that a very few elms are left in the US, largely singletons, planted away from where others can spread contagion. That is another advantage of planting diversely. The same is true with chestnuts (remember the chestnut blight?), but some of the remainders here seem to be resistant and so a few researchers are trying to breed these to bring back the classic American chestnut. Mixing with other more resistant species doesn’t always work as expected– as in the attempt to make honey bees resistant to mites by crossing them with the much more aggressive African varieties.

  55. This is a powerful message to the importance of trees in all settings. Growing up in the city trees were interspersed, and parks were refuges for me as a child and my innate need for nature. I don’t think I consciously knew my need to be close to trees, but my fondest memories were under them, up in them, or using them as forts. There was a definite pull, and still is today.
    I was lucky in my teenage years. The suburb of Lake Oswego had more trees per capita than any other town in Oregon. At least thats what the town said. A special ordinance made it near impossible to cut down a tree there. I wish there were more places like that today. Traveling the country, it made me sad in areas that were so sparse a single tree would catch your attention as if to say, look at me I’m all alone here.
    The tree on your street is a perfect example of the healing powers, and innate sense of interconnectedness with nature that is so often passed by in the hustle bustle of western culture. Here’s to slowing down, breathing deep, and starting to heal through nature.

    • Indeed, Aaron. Here’s to that mutual process by which we understand how to appreciate–and thus care for the immense gifts we are given in this world, including the gift of life we share.
      What you say about lone trees is interesting. Many trees share roots that continue for miles, thus the quaking aspen of Colorado have been called the largest living organism, since their roots intertwine for such a distance–and it is hard to say this is not in some ways a single tree. Some recent studies indicate that when a part of an ancient forest is clear cut, trees of similar species miles away register subtle biological differences. We don’t understand how they communicate, but then we also don’t understand how one atom that was once in contact with another registers a difference when the other is touched, even when after it has been moved to the opposite ends of the earth.
      Physics called this phenomenon “action at a distance”, but perhaps it is not about distance at all.
      We live in a mysterious and marvelous world, and as you say, time to appreciate this.

  56. I would appreciate the lyrics to “Mama Lion”, thank you.

    I hadn’t heard about this song until I read your response to Kari above. That line just somehow resonates with me and ties in with many of the concepts we are exploring.

    • Hi Colleen, it is a pleasure to share these. Mama Lion is not the name of the song, but the nickname of Malvina Reynolds who started writing music very late in life (sorry for the confusion). Here are the words to “God bless the grass”:
      God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
      They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
      The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
      It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
      And God bless the grass.
      God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
      They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
      It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
      And after a while it is growing everywhere,
      And God bless the grass.
      God bless the grass that grows through cement.
      It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
      But after a while it lifts up its head,
      For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
      And God bless the grass.
      God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
      Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
      And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
      And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
      And God bless the grass.
      Courtesy of this link, where you can find more about Malvina Reynolds:
      http://www.wku.edu/~smithch/MALVINA/mr053.htm

  57. Perhaps, we see something greater than ourselves in a tree. A seed which starts out so fragile has the ability to grow into a majestic solid figure, a figure so natural and pure to us that we simply want to embrace it. As children we were drawn to trees to climb them, we could feel like we were part of something greater than ourselves when we were high in a tree being embraced by its giant limbs, we were part of nature, we weren’t in control, we were just living, just as the tree was living in that moment in time.
    I believe that people, who can see trees while healing, would heal faster than those who don’t. The tree could provide a feeling of surrender, surrendering to the power of nature, so that healing isn’t in the control of an individual but part of a natural process. You could see yourself in the tree, existing and living, branches may die and fall away, but the tree still stands.
    As humans in the modern world, we are separated from nature, its processes, the natural cycle of reciprocity, the feelings that nature can employ in our lives. But, when we are existing without focusing on that separation or when we are most fragile we often find ourselves drawn to trees.

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Kristian. I think you have a well taken point in the tree’s showing us something larger than ourselves. I have often contemplated this idea; I think trees give us a way to transcend the smaller parts of our humanity in an earthly way for all the reasons you list.

  58. Prof. Holden, this piece reminds me of “The Giving Tree,” a wonderful tale by Shel Silverstein. I grew up with that story, and read it to my daughter now that my son is “too cool” for bedtime stories : ).

    Though the tree in the story is a metaphor, the tree itself can be representative of those forests that have stood for centuries. We only look to the natural world as an economic tool and what it can yield for us. To deny our own connection with the natural world is to deny our very humanity. We all come from the same earth: animal, vegetable, or mineral. Perhaps, to fully acknowledge and embrace the trees and the sea and the sky would be too much for people; better for them to ignore that which they are slowly destroying–for their own sanity–regardless of their own actions.

    Thank you for sharing yet another wonderful article.

    -Stasey norstrom

    • Of course one tragic result in denying our part in this destruction, Stasey, is that we also ignore our own power to change the destruction that attacks the very roots of our survival in the long term– and our quality of life in the short term. You are not the only one who mentioned the Giving Tree here– obviously, a tree makes a perfect symbol for the quality of generosity that is also possible between humans.

  59. “The eyes of the world are looking at you.” This is such a great quote because, while seemingly simple, it says so much. It would be a great mantra for everyone. This article is really refreshing because as a child of the sixties and seventies, I often heard that “tree-huggers” were considered an oddity or a source of ridicule. “Tree-hugger” was a derogatory term in those days, but in recent times this seems to have changed. Maybe this is because they have been proven right about the importance of nature to humans. It is great to see this term morph into something that now commands serious respect.

    The examples of the women healing themselves with the help of a tree reveals yet another benefit that nature provides to humankind. It reminded me of studies that I have read that clearly demonstrate the benefits of gardening. People who garden regularly report lower instances of high-blood pressure, heart disease, or stress related ailments. The same goes for pet owners, but in this case we can add lower instances of deppression and longer life to the beneficial mix.

    I also like the twist on “survival of the fittest.” I had never thought of it in terms of “fitting.” What a great way to interpret it and such a departure from what most people think about it. Survival by fitting in makes much sense because (if I am deciphering your meaning correctly) it involves cooperation and reciprocation between all of nature, which will ultimately be the key to all of our survival.

    • Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Michael. You read my meaning exactly right in terms of “survival of the fittest”. I certainly agree with your response on this point and on the point of the healing quality of nature. This makes sense to me, since we have come to be in the context of nature…it is interesting to note that “tree huggers” is not even a US term, but derived from an action in support of trees in East India hundreds of years ago.

  60. This reminds me so much of the childrens story The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. If you have not read it I recommend it 100%. It is a story about a tree who loves a boy very much. This tree provides him with apples to sell when he wants money, branches when he wants a house, a trunk when he wants a boat, and when she has nothing left to give, she is a place to sit when he gets tired.
    The story makes me cry almost every time I read it, NO other story does this. I think it touches me that something would give themselves to you completely, and all they would want in return is love. It also speaks miles as to the selfishness of human nature, and our greediness toward the natural world.

    When the boy in the Giving Tree was young, he would come see the tree everyday to play with her, collect her leaves, climb her trunk, swing from her branches, and eat her apples. The boy loved that tree, it was not just a tree it was his friend. Silverstein drew a picture of the boy hugging the tree, and the tree hugging him back. I can remember, as a young girl, feeling the security of a large tree. Sitting way up high on a branch, was like sitting on your grandfathers knee. But just as the boy had, I too lost my appreciation for the security that a tree provides, taking its gifts for granted. I think that if we can all get back to a place where we could spend hours climbing trees, and making a crown of leaves, we many learn to love our trees just as we did as children.

  61. This is a great story. I especially love the idea that the shade from the tree and the fruits from the other plants encourage people to slow down and interact with one another. Whether we realize it or not deep inside most of us there is a real desire to be close to nature. This is the reason that even in our high tech world we have cats, dogs, fish and houseplants by the millions. I think that this is a direct result of the fact that for tens of thousands of years we grew into the species we are today in close relationships with nature. To think that we can replace all of that and remove ourselves from nature without any ill effects is foolish at best. The more that we incorporate nature into our lives and into our communities the happier and healthier we will be.

    • Nice perspective, Heath. Since the original meaning of healing is to make whole, it seems what we need most is to bring all the parts of ourselves back together again. And I can see no better model with which to do this than that of the natural world which, as you indicate, consists of our human roots so many thousands of years old.

  62. There is something ethereal about old trees. Perhaps it is the knowledge they possess, having stood for hundreds of years. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and many of my childhood delights focused around trees now that I think about it; the rope swing with the 2×4 seat in my backyard and the bare dirt underneath it from overuse. I used to take my stuffed animals on the swing and accidentally drop them in that dirt. Every swing would elicit a gentle creak from the branch above. A sturdy yet comely looking triangle tree house built in a stout old Madrone tree. I remember sitting in that tree house with my brother, dangling our feet off of the beams. Every time we would move or the wind would blow, the branches above and below us would creak.
    When we buried our family dogs, (and one cat) we buried them under that madrone tree, as it seemed fitting to put them in a place of so much joy. No matter what the circumstance, the happenings around the tree always seemed safe, secure, like you had an unwritten trust that the tree will watch over you.

  63. I really liked how connected we can become with nature with the smallest amount of it present within the human constructed environment. Like Andrew Light, many people can see that their own constructed environment is interconnected and seamless like many indigenous worldviews, however, it doesn’t really allow us to understand our ancestry to the natural world. I also like to watch a tree sway in the breeze or go hiking just to “get back to nature” but I can also see our own constructed environment as seamless and interconnected, like the environment I hike in. I guess the question now is, can noticing the connectedness and seamlessness of our own city environment bring the same healing power as seeing a tree outside your window?

    • Thoughtful challenge, Tony. Perhaps we would walk more in the city (as in your country hike) if we saw our built environment in this way. Perhaps we would plant more city trees as well (as does the Eugene
      Tree Foundation) — which also might encourage us to walk our cities more…

  64. What a lovely story about how your maple tree and other plants have brought comfort, discovery, and the making of beautiful memories to so many people. It is amazing how nature can affect us all in such a positive way, from a nice big tree hug, intoxicating smells, and breathtaking views, it is almost impossible to escape that magic.

  65. I found myself rereading this article, taking something different away from it each time. I love how the tree is used as a way of establishing community among people. I was also thinking about how the tree is used for healing. I realized that there are many ways that I seek nature for healing as well; many times without even realizing it. I think that one of the most replenishing acts is going for a jog—especially near water. The sights, sounds, and smells of this small interaction with nature are soothing; they never fail to renew my mind.
    Secondly, I enjoy sitting under and admiring the stars, especially on a clear night. The stars unite us in the same way that the tree does. They serve as a reminder that we are all connected under the same vast sky.
    Finally, I was thinking about the significance of trees. The article states that hospitalized patients that have a view of trees typically heal faster than those that don’t. It reminded me of how much I appreciate Oregon. I came here from California; and oddly enough, one of the reasons was because I fell in love with the trees. The lifestyle in Oregon is still much different than that of California. I feel a greater sense of connectedness in the people here. After reading the article, I can’t help but think that the trees are the reason I feel the quality of life is better here.

    • A lovely post in expressing the many dimensions of your response and care for trees. Beautiful images of what we share when we share the presence and significances of trees. Thanks for sharing your personal story in this way, Katelyn. I don’t think it was so odd to come to Oregon because you fell in love with trees. Now those who live in the midst of such treasures need to care for and protect them.

  66. This article really rings true for me. Last year a very close friend of mine got in a horrible car accident that she was blessed to live through. During her recovery i would go to the recovery center and take her outside for walks and she would love to sit near this tree and just admire the trunk and the flowers on it. I feel like it was a sense of appreciation for the earth and everything in it. She always looked so much more alive after my visits. Its amazing what nature can do.

  67. I really think that people take for granted the beauty that nature brings to our lives. It was nice to read that there are still people who remember this simple beauty. Trees represent so many things to people, beauty, strength, protection, I know I have recieved all of these feelings from trees. I love nothing more than sitting under a tree in the summer with a good book. The trees in our world need to be protected like they protect us because they can’t protect themselves anymore.

    • Thinking about trees and their form of protection, Danielle, it seems to me that trees can only protect themselves from our actions with their beauty and their gift of breath to us: if humans can’t appreciate these, than the trees may well be destined to outlast humans on this earth.

  68. Dr. Holden,

    This is a remarkable story.. Wow i was absolutely amazed how these women would come and wrap their arms around this tree while they were healing. It is inspiring to see so many women that have been affected by nature in such a personable and intimate way. Not only does this story make me realize just how important a relationship with nature is but how important my relationship is. Nature is the true healer and will always be the number cure to any illness. Whether it be AIDS, Cancer or any other non serious illness. This actually reminds me of a person that i know. His name is Jonnie and he used to work with my dad. Well he got diagnosed with cancer (not sure which type) but he had to retire early and the doctor gave him six months to live. Well he was traveling around and he met this woman i think in Montana who was part of an indigenous Native American tribe here in the US. She told him about this tea that her ancestors had been making from this special type of leaf. The tea was supposed to cure illness and relinquish the body of sickness. He began drinking the tea twice a day. He is actually still alive and it has been almost 9 years since he was diagnosed. His story is inspiring along with these ladies in the article.

    Sincerely,
    Chelsea Gagner

    • Thanks for your comment, Chelsea. Cancer can be a serious diagnosis indeed, but there are problems with giving folks an estimated time to live, since there have been so many cases of spontaneous remissions or successful complementary medicine. Though there is no promise with these: what I think is that doctors can tell you (the patient) someone else’s story, but it is important to remember that they cannot tell you yours. There is so much mystery involved in the cycle of life and death. And healing literally comes from the words, “to make whole”– so that “healing” and “curing” one of disease are not necessarily the same things- there is sometimes much emotional and spiritual healing even when one is not cured.

  69. I really related to your sentiment, “I wouldn’t have picked these couples out of an ordinary crowd…” I often forget that people have their own thoughts and feelings separate from but similar to mine. I think of myself as more conscious of the environment than some people, but a person wouldn’t necessarily be able to pick up on my values by merely looking at me. The more I look, the more of these types of examples I find. I had been working at a coffee shop for a couple of months. Among others, I worked with a younger guy, and I knew he was pursuing a biology degree while working full time. One day I asked him what he wanted to do with his education, what were his life goals? He said, “I want to save the world.” I had thought we had very little in common; it wasn’t something I could tell just by looking at him. I smiled, and I said, “That’s what I want to do, too.” Likewise, he was surprised. I think a lot of this course is about seeing and fostering connections to bring the world into perspective. Seeing a coworker as a like-minded want-to-be environmentalist is a small step in working toward seeing someone on the other side of the world as a neighbor. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for your personal response expanding on this point, Christine. This is something very important to remember, as your last sentence eloquently puts it.

  70. When I close my eyes and imagine the the sights, sounds, and smells of the Oregon Coast it takes me to a place where I feel very relaxed and at ease with the world. Even without being there physically it is a way for me to quickly reconnect with the environment. The image of someone hugging a tree is cliche in many ways, but with the context of having undergone serious surgeries like the women in these posts, it is easier to understand where they are coming from. There are most certainly healing powers to be harnessed from nature, whether through one’s imagination, physical contact, or both. I think whether or not we can see this from our hospital window is less the point and moreso that we recognize these powerful forces in the first place.

    • Thanks for your comment, Allison. There are healing powers to be harnessed from the natural world, Allison– not the least because this is the context in which our bodies became what they are.

  71. I have always been very impressed by trees. They have had a huge impact on my mind and I still remember certain ones with great fondness. I love the sound of the wind in the treetops, especially up in the mountains when there is nothing else you can hear. I love how small random acts that people do, make impressions on us as well. And I always love how it is that I happened to be looking when that person was doing that act. You can be driving in your car and just out of the corner of your eye, you catch someone doing something special or amazing, and I always feel that it was a special gift for me to see it, and to happen to be there at that moment. Everywhere you look, there are stories. Trees tell stories, animals tell stories and people are ALWAYS telling stories. When I go to a therapy pool, as I am exercising, I always overhear people talking to each other and what are they doing? They are telling stories. Whatever is relevant for them at that moment, is coming alive in their discourse, sharing ideas and commonality. People talk about what is going on in their communities, what needs changing, or what needs to be heard. I was recently inspired to build a fire in my backyard fire pit, something I don’t normally do. I found it beautiful, peaceful and very comforting, sitting out under the stars, listening to and watching the flames dance their colorful dance, and I could imagine how in times when people depended upon fire, the fire would speak to them and tell them stories too, since the fire has a spirit. I felt there was something very essential about being close to fire that was healing, and I reflected upon how most people’s lives nowadays are completely out of touch with the element of fire, even thought we have fire in and around us all the time.

  72. Dr. Holden,

    I have always been a lover of trees. I find them very relaxing, and if I have the opportunity I will always try to plant a tree, which is extremely gratifying for me. I can realate to this story, because I truely believe trees and all plants have great healing powers. That is really neat that those two woman hugged the maple tree for it’s healing powers, we all need to do more of that!

    Thanks,

    Troy

  73. Dr. Holden,

    Another GREAT story in how people come in contact with nature and truly recognize her importance in life. Thanks for sharing about those who take the time to pass by and “stop” and appreciate the trees and plants. I am very fortunate to live in a city where trees, flowers, and fruit bloom year round. It is simply incredible! But, I believe there are times when all of us, living in Cuernavaca (the city of eternal spring) forget to “stop” and hug a tree or smell the flowers. So, this article is another great example of recognizing and appreciating what we have to enjoy day in and day out!

    Paul Nash

  74. Dr. Holden,

    Thank you for sharing this article. I think it demonstrates very well people’s need for a connection to nature, whether they know it or not. I think we are sometimes raised to feel separated or above nature, but it is amazing to see people seeking that connection. The statement in the article about people in hospitals healing faster when they can look out on trees was very interesting. Working with therapy dogs I see people connect with animals all the time. Whether its plants or animals its obvious that close contact to nature is a healthy way to live.

  75. This is such a touching story. Trees and plants are so special to our world. They can create shelter, food, even safety from harm but they rarely recieve the recognition they deserve. As a child I always felt comfort in climbing up a tree just to get away and clear my head. It’s those memories that help me to keep my respect for trees alive. They have protected me from rain and even nourished me with an apple, to me this is special and I am forever grateful. The best part is they will do this for anyone, they will never descriminate against you. That is a wonderful gift.

  76. I love living in Oregon. I can honestly say when things in my life get tough and I just need a place to calm down and think I go take a look outside. I will go for a hike and just take the time I need to breath. What happens when I come home after a hike is I feel healed. It’s partly because I just did physical activity and my endorphins are going. I also think that calmness that comes after a hike is the my mind embracing the wonder of the world around me.

  77. One of the two beech trees, which was in front of our house, had to be cut off several years ago, because the tree was sickened and died as a result of being poisoned by cement. Due to the road extensions measures undertaken by the municipality, its roots were cemented. More than hundred years this has been the place where the tree used to stand steadily, but then it had to make space in order to extend the road by one lane. Afterwards, city planners lacked budgets to realize the poject and thus, the project came to an end right after our house. The part which was supposed to become a street lane became just several new parking lots that are now be used by cars advertising their businesses. It was too late for the tree to be saved from harm. The other tree received a sign by the Authority for the Environment indicating that is is under nature conservation. Hopefully, it will save him from suffering the same fate as ist brother.

    • What a sad story, Nick. Shows the outcome of human carelessness, but let’s hope for the continued care of the remaining tree. I sometimes ponder the history such trees have witnessed and the perspective they could relate to us from their position as sentinel all these years.

  78. It’s interesting to look at the various “services” that trees offer us: providing oxygen, food, shade, ..etc. I don’t normally think of it this way, but I guess if you add up all of these “services”, then we are truly dependent on trees (and other elements in nature). But then, I think most people don’t view this dependency as something important. For example, I feel I’m more dependent on the grocery store than I am dependent on nature itself (even though it is the ultimate provider of all the products in the store). Maybe that’s why many people don’t appreciate the true importance of nature, and how/why we are all interdependent with it…

    • This is one of the issues of the modern age, Yousef. In that we are separated from the sources of our sustenance, we don’t even recognize them, much less care for them. This is also one of the important things about local farmer’s markets (as in the open markets everywhere in Palestine). They teach us about the essential role of those who related directly to the land in procuring our food.

  79. This story makes me think about my youth when I would climb to the top of whatever tree I could find. There were these two trees in my backyard in Virginia, one that had branches low that I could climb then crossing over to the larger tree where the branches reached across to the other. I would climb about 40 feet up and just sit in the top of the tree with it swaying in the wind. I was about 8 and my mom would get so worried but I would climb up there often, just to get away from everything else down below. Yesterday I stepped outside and my daughter was sitting in a tree, drawing a picture in her sketch book. I don’t generally express my appreciation by hugging trees on the sidewalk, but I do enjoy them, they remind me of my youth, a place I can go back to in my mind, looking out high above my two story house, farther up than my older brother would climb, free of entaglements.

  80. In the example of the tree, nature has taught human-beings how to be more human, how to connect again with one another and with the natural world all around us, which in turn connects us again to one another.

  81. I really enjoyed the picture of the father testing the kiwi for ripeness with his son.

    As a child, my favorite relatives to visit were my great aunt and uncle. My uncle would take my brother and I for walks on his property and point out all the different trees and birds. He had wild blueberries growing on the hill behind the house and we used to go and check them often to see if they were ripe yet. He was the main influence in my life that taught me to appreciate the outdoors and connect with nature. It is a wonderful legacy that I hope to be able to pass down to my children and grandchildren as well.

    • Thanks for sharing this touching personal family image–and the legacy that you will be passing on, Julie. Let’s all work to keep this earth vital so that we can indeed pass on such legacies to those who follow us.

  82. What a simple yet beautiful story. I personally think that plants hold so much intrigue and history. I think that all people can relate to this story in some way. The first personal story that came to my mind when I read this article was the story of how I met my fiancé; a shared fascination with fossilized plant leafs brought us together like the community members in your story were brought together by the tree outside your home. We were both in the last year of our undergraduate education when we applied to and got the same internship at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science doing paleobotanical work. Together we would sit together on rock outcrops extracting fossilized leafs that were tens of millions of years old. We both watched in awe as sedimentary rocks yielded delicately veined leafs. In this instance the types of flora that were represented in the fossil assemblage taught us what the ecology of Eastern Colorado was like around 60 million years ago.

  83. In the small town, where I work, there are lots of those trees that stand between the sidewalk and street. Though they are there to look decorative and remain small and delicate, it seems that these trees are not just “flourishing” but fighting back against their constraints. Often, a lane of traffic must be closed so that people can cut back the tree branches which flow into the road, and the sidewalk is nearly destroyed by the trees roots, which force the cement to crack and raise several inches off the ground. Usually, I think that it’s cruel to try and contain trees in so small an area, but occasionally, I like the visual reminder that nature can’t (or shouldn’t) be contained.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing this perspective on the trees in the town where you work. I am all for taking out parking and butting out strips along the roadways where such trees grow to make more room for them.

  84. I have yet to hug a tree but I think I will soon. I live in a newer community hwere there are no mature trees. To me there is a sense of lacking history here. In an older neighborhood the sight of older trees informs visitors and locals of history there. That tree has seen good times and bad but it still stands. It shows how we must also go through good and bad times but still survive. That tree when it was planted depended on humans to water it. Just like we depend on our parents to prepare us for the future. Now it seems we depend on the tree for shade and support. Spriritual support. As our parents mature they need help from us. Okay I will hug a tree now.

    • Hi Al, I like your insight about the ways in which elder trees “informs visitors and locals of history”. Like the tree, we go through good times and bad, as you say– and still survive. This reminds me about something Nisqually elder Billy Frank said when asked about hope for the future in the context of current environmental crises. He stated that nature has not given up on her life–and we might add that as long as nature does not do this (and shows us this in such things as these trees) we should not give up on our work to restore and care for the life of nature. Great point about what we depend on from a tree!

  85. I need to hug a tree.

  86. This article was very uplifting and helps us think about the different ways to appreciate the natural world that surrounds us. When you stated that research has shown that those who look out on a tree from their hospital window heal faster than those with no veiw, it immediately reminded my of my grandfather. He is now 94 years old and still appreciates his garden and the trees that surround his house more that anyone I know. In relation to this article, I constatly see him sitting on his chair and just staring out from his window at the trees he planted years ago. When it is nice outside, he goes and sits outside and stares for hours and hours at the neighbors trees. I never actually thought of it before prior to reading this article, but now I realize that he may do this as a healing or relaxation process, and maybe because it just makes him feel good. Luckily, he lives in a neiborhood where people appreciate their yards and actually take care of them. When I go home this weekend, I may actually sit out and join him!

  87. The thing I love most about the idea of a tree in the middle of a developed neighborhood is the fact that we can still appreciate and be “one” with nature even in an urban environment. Nature can still have a healing power whether it is outside of a hospital or in a front yard. It seems to me that, even after centuries of cutting down forests and disrespecting nature in the Western worldview, plants can still forgive us and continue to give back when we plant trees or gardens in these unlikely settings. We are able to respect nature, such as this tree, in a place that is “close to home” and in return we receive not only beautiful, healing plants but also a sense of community within our own species. It really does give me hope that we can finally “get back to nature.”

    • Hi Lauren, thanks for your comment. Your sketch here indicates the loyalty that trees seem to have towards humans even after our abuse (cutting down forests, giving them so little space to share with us). Let us hope that the natural world in general continues to express such care for her human children until we find our way back home to care for nature and human community both in the way in which we are capable (to use Trevor’s word) of doing.

  88. The central theme of “trees uniting humans” is a great observation. Trees unite us in more ways than one. Most mobile beings have a dependency on oxygen. Since oxygen is the main product from the photosynthesis reaction, we mobile beings have a united relationship with plants whether we recognize it or not. We also depend on trees for aesthetic and emotional stability such as the “woman with her arms around the tree…(that just had) shoulder surgery” (Madronna Holden, Our Earth/Ourselves, Tree Huggers in the City). Nature is such an intricate part of our existence because it is the backdrop of our existence. It is the wooden stage of the Broadway show that is our lives.
    The parallel drawn, at the end of the essay, between trees sheltering humans and henceforth humans could shelter others is interesting. Just as we are linked to plant life through our dependencies on oxygen, it would be nice to take the cycle of sharing and respect that the trees give us, and “pay it forward” to others.

    • Thanks for this comment, Shamon. Just as we all breathe the same air–to take your example– perhaps we might also understand that we are all united in the circle of life. A hopeful vision here!

  89. I found the information that those with the view of a tree heal faster than those without surprising. I know that if I ever find myself in a hospital I will insist on a room with a view. I agree with the ideas expressed in this article. If humans continue with their ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, destruction of important assets will follow. For example, people act as though their destructive ways will have no effect on the world, but animal and plant species are going extinct, which could lead to distasterous outcomes. Without the life of plants on this planet, humans will not be able to sustain life either. The indigenous people knew this, and at the present time, people should stop cutting down forests in mass orders, and worry more about desertification and sustaining life on this planet.

    • Hi Katie. Thanks for your comment. I do think trees have the loveliest ways of reminding us how much we need them. If only industrializing humans would pay more attention to such messages!

  90. This is one of those “aww” stories that can make my day. I love that more than one person hugged the same tree, and that neither of them seemed to stand out as a “tree hugger”. Something about the calmness of the tree could certainly lead to feelings of calmness in an individual. When we feel stress for prolonged amounts of time, it can suppress our immune systems and make us less able to recover. In my stress and coping class last term we learned of a study in which married couples with high levels of stress as measured by stress hormones in their blood took much longer to heal from blisters that were intentionally created on their arms compared to couples with low levels of stress hormones and seemingly healthier relationships. Removing oneself from the midst of stressful life events and connecting with nature can definitely induce the relaxation response, bringing stress hormone levels down and making the body more able to heal with stronger immune functioning. Hence, it makes perfect sense that hugging a tree is therapeutic. The part about the dad testing the fruit for his child was another “aww” moment.. 🙂 more father or mother/ child bonding moments should involve nature.

    • Thoughtful analysis of why this tree might have been healing to these women in terms of ideas of stress, Karen. But perhaps it is simpler than that altogether. We became human amidst the trees, so it makes sense that our bodies would feel at home there once again. Thanks for your comment– I found these events touching as well.

  91. I don’t know how it happens, but I agree that nature itself can be a source of healing for many people. I think part of it comes from nature’s soothing and relaxing vibe. When the body relaxes, it can heal itself quicker. This is a very encouraging article in that it gives several examples of how just one garden can really positively affect a community. Healing, growing relationships, and having something in common are all byproducts of nature. I thought it was weird that those women hugged the tree, and maybe even weirder for the husbands, but that is just the impact nature can have on people. I enjoyed the short bit about the father and his son. It painted a very vivid picture in my mind, one that makes me smile. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for sharing it.

    • You are certainly welcome, Chris. I guess whatever healing energy, in the last analysis, this women were getting from their physical connection to this tree belongs to them– not to us who are witnessing from the outside.

  92. I loved the thought that this essay ended w/ : “Survival of the Fittest,” instead of dog-eat-dog, the better we can “fit” into our natural world the easier and more fulfilling life can become…and maybe even allow it to stick around for a bit longer?

  93. Trees seem to be one of the most exploited natural resources we have on our planet. We chop them down to build our homes, to make our paper, we use trees to provide warmth in the winter and tap into them to provide a topping for our pancakes. But I would venture a guess that until reading your essay most people would not think about a tree in a healing and spiritual sense. This is very unfortunate because the inner strength that a tree possess must be considerable greater than what we have inside of ourselves. They are powerless against progress and our machines and yet they stand tall in our wilderness. They continue to grow and reproduce despite the environmental devastation that is happening around them. Our wilderness if full of trees that have been here longer than the white man and If we stopped for a moment to listen to our trees blowing in the wind…we would probably learn something.

    • Thanks for your comment, Anedra. I agree that we have something to learn from natural beings that are more ancient than non-Indian lives on this land! Since trees take carbon out of the air, are the lungs of the earth, keep soil in tact and fertile– not to mention, providing food and shelter for many living creatures including humans, they are worthy of respect.
      The spiritual qualities that you point out we might also see in trees surely have something to teach us as well!

  94. This article conveys the undeniable connection and relationship between man and plant life that is often missed due to worldviews of human separateness. In addition to their beauty and function in photosynthesis, there is much more to be gained from plants. A client at the Transition Center where I work is a member of the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge. Taking this class has opened a communication pathway between he and I that has led to many discussions about the culture and traditions of his Tribe. He has told me that all life flows from Mother Earth—with birth and death part of the natural cycle of the Circle of Life through which all things are connected. The Circle of Life is represented by the 4 Sacred Directions (North, South, East, West). Each direction is a vital part of the Circle of Life and has sacred plants that play a vital role in spiritual and physical knowledge and well-being. Plants such as Tobacco, Cedar, Sage, Sweetgrass, Copal, Aspen, Bearberry, and many more are used in ways ranging from medicinal concoctions to protection from evil. Besides their uses, these plants represent a different part of Mother Earth such as her hair or her breast.

    Nowadays, we are constantly immersed in Western culture and its values. What I learned the most from this client is that these ideas are still alive.

    • Thanks for sharing this note about a tradition that is very much alive, Bree. That is true of many indigenous traditions despite the harrowing history that many indigenous communities have experienced.
      I am heartened by the fact that such connections to the natural world are still with even some of those who were raised in traditions that give so little emphasis on the “undeniable connection” between humans and the natural world!

  95. This essay was really inspiring to me. I remember feeling a touch of healing in my grandmother’s backyard. Everytime I was feeling down, or just too stressed out, if I went to my grandmother’s yard and just sat under her big cedar tree, I felt so much better. Everyone should be able to feel this kind of sense of relief.

  96. I just loved this article!! It was so uplifting to read. I have to be honest when I read the title of this article I didn’t think it would start off like that or provide the information that it did. It was such a different take on a “tree hugger.” I praise those people for hugging the tree and bring “peace” to themselves, with the natural healing of a tree. I know when people go through a traumatic experience it is always best to find your own personal way of healing, and to each is their own of whatever it may be. I don’t think that people really realize that something as simple as a tree can help somebody so much. Things like this show us that we need to value this earth and all the things that encompass it.

    • Hi Jose, I’m glad you enjoyed this! These women not only found a way to bring healing to themselves but to me in watching theme and to many who have read this article– that is a little of the tree’s gift to us. Yet more to be grateful for.
      And happy thanksgiving to you!

  97. I have never heard of research finding that those who “look out on a tree from their hospital window heal faster than those with no such view”, but such a concept does not surprise me in the least, for I feel MUCH healthier, and more at peace when I am surrounded by trees. Trees are the reason for the existence of most life on earth, after all. Plants were amongst the first living things on this planet, allowing it the oxygen that complex organisms needed to survive and evolve into the humans and animals which exist here on earth today. So, perhaps it is not so far-fetched to declare that looking upon a tree will heal one faster than not, and I understand where then the idea originated that hugging a tree just might heal a person even faster.

    Even if hugging a tree is not truly and scientifically a cure for medical issues, perhaps it is a cure for the soul. Perhaps by embracing the natural thing that grants us our breath, our very life, it will continue to do just that in a healing sense… grant us another breath, beyond the one we thought might have been our last, and prolong our very lives. Or perhaps it will just make our last breaths worth taking because by hugging a tree, our souls will be healed. By embracing something far larger than our “human smallness” we can abandon our “human separateness” and our souls will be purified.

    This is the way I would feel anyhow. Walking amidst a forest of trees and breathing in the scent of their foliage seems to rejuvenate me, and I feel my breath is worth even more than it did before I took the time to embrace such natural beauty; before I took the time to separate myself from the constant, mundane and rather narrow-pathed rhythm of humanity, and regard all that is bigger than myself; recognize that these trees render souls just like my own. Perhaps all they want is that recognition, that embracing gesture, and they will grant us one more breath than our last.

    Let us cure our own souls by recognizing the souls of nature herself. Let us heal our soul by embracing the soul of a tree. Regard their lives, and perhaps they will regard ours.

    • Hi Cherise. I like your idea of the oxygen trees generate not only being the practical basis of our lives but “making our last breaths more worth taking”– I think this is true at any time of our lives.
      Thanks for your eloquent words on the links between our souls and the healing souls of the natural world.

  98. Apparently this class is affecting me. When coming back from the store today with my daughter, I found myself commenting (as we passed a new-ish housing development), ‘Oh look, those yards have no trees.’ We were both surprised and puzzled, since where we live, there are truly trees everywhere, of many sizes, shapes and (although many branches are now getting bare) colors. The two lots without trees stood out and just looked wrong, we both agreed.
    I’m very pleased with many current civic ordinances that require new businesses and houses to have trees in front of them. I don’t know that I’ve intentionally hugged a tree, but I’ve climbed them and sat in them for hours as a kid, spent many a summer lunchtime sitting against them as an adult, and logged quite a few miles hiking among them. I couldn’t live without trees.

    • Thanks for your comment, Patrick. I am not sure it is this class that is affecting you but something deeply human inside us all. I fully believe that such things as the trees you speak of teach us how to become fully human–and thus those barren recently “developed” lots grate on many of us.

  99. One of the main things that drew me to buy a house in my neighborhood was the old mature tree-lined shady streets. I have always liked trees. They are the home to so much urban wildlife and in the country the animals like to use them as scratching posts, a napping place and the fruit from them comes in handy too. If trees can see, just think of the things that they witness! I’m in awe of anything that can live to be over 100 years old. My old black walnut tree was around when there were no automobiles in Salem…now there are thousands. I put a swing in that tree when my son was a toddler and it is still hanging in the back yard. Swings that hang from trees with tall branches are the best…you can get very high! I hate to see those old pictures of loggers cutting down those old, huge trees. For some reason trees that are old just seem more human than bushes or other plants. My son would watch an animated movie when he was young called “Fern Gully”. There were little fairies in Fern Gully that would speak for saving the trees. When ever I see a tree taken down I’m thinking about the animals that lived there. I’m glad that Salem has rules about cutting down trees. They are important. This show on OPB was documenting the year of a fig tree in the jungle. So much wildlife depend on the fig tree to survive. Then there is this specialized fig wasp that pollinates the fig. The fig tree can’t survive without that special wasp and the wasp can’t survive without the fig tree.When I think of trees in general, I can’t think of anything negative about them. All of my tree thoughts and memories are good ones! I think I’ll go hug my tree and show it some appreciation in the morning!

    • Thanks for your delightful response, Kelley. It does seem to me that those living beings (or ecosystems) that are older than humans deserve some status and respect for being our “elders”– who might teach us something about how to live in the world we share.
      I appreciate the reminder of the ways in which we are all related!

  100. It’s really cool that people in hospitals heal faster when they have the ability to look out the window and have a tree in sight. This is the first time I have ever heard anything like this, but it does make sense. Nature does profound things for us all; we just have to embrace nature and let it work it wonders. This brings me to your point of “we must learn to be vulnerable to the larger than human world—give in to our impulse and lean on the tree.” I think a large part of our population understand the importance of trees but at times, take their existence for granted. Humans shouldn’t hold themselves smaller or larger than the rest of nature; humans are just another piece to the puzzle and that’s what makes the natural world so wonderful.

    • Indeed, Matt. Thanks for this comment. It should add to our sense of belonging to know we do not stand apart from nature as either less or more than the natural world, as you note.

  101. When I go for walks in my city, I purposely chose to walk down streets with trees, during the summer they shade me from the hot sun and during storms they shelter me, they also add a soundtrack with the birds they house and they also make me feel safe and I do not feel alone. On some days certain trees especially the older ones provide me with strength and inspiration, so I can understand why those women needed to hug those trees.

    I have been living in my new neighborhood for over a year now and I know my block rather well. The other day I was walking down the street and I felt a difference and it was disturbing but I could not figure out what it was but there was a certain coldness and grayness in a particular spot. The next day as I walked down the same block I knew what it was, someone had chopped down a pine tree on their lot. It was really a sad sight and I thought of all the squirrels and birds and how they must have felt, displaced as I had been?

    • ‘Thanks for sharing the strength and inspiration you get from your neighborhood trees, Yensi. That must certainly be something you can use in your life in the South Bronx (I say that, having living in New York while I was getting my Ph.d)
      A compassionate story of the pine tree– it is not just ourselves that profit from the presence of these green elders among us.

  102. I really enjoyed reading this story, as there is little more special in life than the relationship an individual shares with nature. I had no idea that the presence of trees outside a window has been proven to contribute to healing, but I can understand why: nature has a certain calmness than cannot usually be derived from relationships with other people. Nature, and trees for that matter, live in a kind of continuity that we do not normally experience otherwise. I think the women discussed in the story sought out the big, old, maple tree for comfort because it was so large and seemed to have knowledge in its history. I remember spending summer days as a child leaned up against one of the trees in my parents’ backyard, enjoying the breeze—and the shade, and a refuge when things didn’t seem to be going my way. I think that trees serve as a reminder of the beauty of nature and provide a safe haven because they do not take anything from us, but bring us shade, comfort, fruits (in many cases), and offer protection. Moreover, the examples in this story accentuate the wonder of a relationship between man and nature, and what nature has to offer us in terms of protection and comfort, both in a physical and emotional sense.

    • Thanks for this comment, Lauren. There is indeed knowledge contained in the history of a tree– knowledge to sooth and heal us as we stand in its presence (even if we do not totally understand this is words).
      I think you were lucky to have such trees to learn up against as a child. Surely we are blessed to share our lives with such green beings.

  103. I loved this story or article, I definitely believe in the power of healing, hollistically and everything else included. I also am a firm believer in positive thought and it’s amazing ability to make things happen. I love the idea that in the place that that tree shouldn’t flourish, surrounded by cement, it is a lush garden like atmosphere. It’s always amazing the perseverence that can emerge from unlikely places.

  104. My first thought while beginning to read this story was “I wish there was a photo of this tree so that I might see it’s beauty”. I love trees above most anything. Their life giving oxygen, their graceful limbs, their leaves that come and go, their needles that soften the grass and earth below, their nourishing seeds and nuts and fruits, and their smell on a warm afternoon. I think it’s beautiful that people heal faster when exposed to a tree thru the window. I do think it’s interesting that this particular tree drew so much attention, which again makes me wish I had a photo!! 🙂

  105. What an uplifting article! I’ve always thought of street trees as “fake” trees, but your story has given me a whole new perspective, and for that, I must thank you 🙂 I’m actually really inspired to try hugging a tree the next time I’m feeling sickly…we’ll see what happens!

    • Hi Randa, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you now have a different opinion of street trees– there are hundreds of them in Eugene’s “urban forest” without which our climate and quality of life would certainly be vastly different.
      Good luck on your personal tree hugging experiment: one thing about it, this has no dangerous side effects!

  106. It’s funny that most people just don’t think to even really take in trees and street trees at that. I live in Seattle and one thing I love to do is stare at the trees while riding the bus into the city. The trees give me this sense of life that in all the madness of the city we are reminded of where we came from the earth. I enjoyed this article because for me it truly hits home. I have been very sick the past two weeks and was at home unable to function or even type. The only thing that comforted me in my room was that I could look out onto the streets and see the trees and the changing of the leaves, the wind and the light. For me I so desperately wanted to be out of the dull confines of my room. Thank you for sharing this article.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Jazmin. I hope that you are feeling better now. Your comment is a reminder to all of us to take advantage of the gifts of these natural presences and the beauty they bring us.

  107. How great it is to have been graced by the presence of this tree in front of your house! I find it inspiring that something that we normally look right past and take for granted in our busy everyday lives is still acknowledged and appreciated, more-so than I imagined. The most inspiring part of this story is the encounter of the woman who had breast cancer and felt as though the tree had healing powers. This is exactly the interconnectedness we have with nature that the Grandmothers express.

  108. This was a beautiful story! It is absolutely amazing how plants and nature can bring people together, create connections, and heal. I feel like the lack of communication with nature is one of the many factors that has lead to our ever widening generation gap. Those moments aren’t being shared between a father and son, people are choosing to go to gyms rather than take a walk through the fresh air, and we are losing our important connection to something so much greater than ourselves.

  109. I love trees. The picture of the tree in this article is beautiful. It really does look like a tree that would be lovely to hug. Each tree is precious and a gift. I watched elders make a teepee and they did a ceremony asking the trees for their branches to be used. But it is not only us humans that love trees, but many organisms who do. From the symbiotic relationship of fungus and bacterias who live among the roots to the acorn woodpecker who is so valued and prized. Lovely trees who seem to watch over us and grow up with us, feed us, and love us.

  110. It may sound funny, but I too have a particular tree that is very special to me. My house growing up was located at the base of a mountain range and a creek wash ran behind our home for drainage from the mountain runoff. At the head of this creek stood a massive California Oak tree that had to be at least 3-4 feet wide at the trunk. My brother, sister, and I used to always go hiking with my dad and dogs and we would pass by this tree every time. I can’t really explain what it is, maybe the memories, or perhaps the thought that this tree had seen many years of life that made it so special. I would certainly be upset if this tree were to be cut down, but luckily it is a State protected tree, and even if the land is developed, it must remain. It is also interesting that I generally feel bad when a tree dies. We had a cherry blossom tree in our back yard that didn’t survive a loss of sprinklers and it was a very sad thing. Trees definitely hold some special place in our hearts, more-so than other plants. I can certainly relate to the pain felt by the loss of “Hometree” in “Avatar”. I hope someday to be able to take my children by this same tree and tell them about their grandfather and how I spent my childhood growing up. I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience nature as frequently as I did growing up. Maybe my father knew something I didn’t, and that is why he made it such a point to expose us to it.

    • It doesn’t sound funny that you have a special tree, Damien. You are joining many others in this. In fact, it sounds like you have a special relationship with more than one tree in your life. This California Oak sounds amazing; it is great that it is protected.

  111. I normally have a lot to say and write. I can’t find the words…

    That essay made me smile while reading, and placed beautiful mental pictures in my mind. There is so much power in connecting to life, and to me this showed a wonderful web between humans, nature, and the bonding of spirit. I am jealous. I long and ache for community and connections to all around me, but have yet to gain the courage to step out of my “box”. It is as you wrote, ” We must abandon our human separateness—our human smallness for something larger.” This I wish to do with all my heart.

  112. This story brought back fond memories of a little tree I received at school on Earth Day. I was probably about seven years old, and I went to stay with my grandparents for a few weeks in the summertime. I brought my tree with me, and my grandparents and I planted that little tree in their front yard. Year after year, when I would visit my grandparents I was able to see my tree grow. It is just amazing that this little foot high tree we planted together is now higher than their house. Now that my grandparents have passed, I hope to still go up to their place and check on my tree. They called that tree “Amber’s Tree.” What a wonderful memory to recall. Thank you Dr. Holden for this article.

  113. It is amazing reading through the responses to this article and how many people have heartfelt emotions and memories pertaining to trees. While reading this I, too, was brought back to so many instances of special places where the trees provided the respite from a crazy day, or the wisdom when life gets rough. I love how many people shared the tree in front of your house, that it provided comfort for so many people. It goes to show how much humanity relies on nature, and trees in particular, for spiritual sustenance, as well as the very obvious but sometimes taken for granted: oxygen.

    On a breezy day I can always count on having a profound experience by sitting under a tree and listening to the wind rustle through the leaves, or weave through the pine needles. These moments are my way of listening to a wisdom that is all around us, interwoven in our landscape and in our biology.

  114. This reminds me of “The Giving Tree.” During his whole life the boy in the book comes back to the tree when he feels like he needs support to get through something. Throughout history it seems that trees have always had a healing aspect to people. I like sitting in the old cottonwood in my front yard. It is so calming to be there. I am glad that the author’s tree gives more than one or two people a sense of joy. Trees are something that should be shared with everyone.

  115. I have the “Giving Tree” sitting on my bookshelf and it reminds me of this story. My sister and I grew up on this book and practiced hugging the trees in our yard when we were little. We even took pictures hugging and sitting in trees during our senior high school pictures… there’s just something about a tree growing that draws you to it!

  116. This passage is very relative to the circumstances of some aspects of my life. Support is a funny thing. We all need it, yet I feel many people shy away from accepting it. It reminds me of the idea that sometimes don’t want to admit to being pretty or really good at something in order to avoid their peers perceiving them of being conceited… My point is that I wish people would be okay with accepting and admitting both the ups and the downs. Your words, “But to understand this language, we must let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world” really signify my reaction to this post. I think we, including myself, have a hard time being vulnerable. Also, maybe because it is a part of the landscape, people do not rely on plants and trees and animals for guidance and support. The reliance, of course has now taken ill-advantage of these things. There is a deep, deep symbiosis in more ways than we probably know. Sometimes it may seem like we can’t live with some of these things, such as a spider on the wall; but, we also can’t live without them.Turn to the trees and other non-human neighbors we share the earth with.

    Thank you,
    Dana

    • Great points both about our getting support from the more than human world–and about the difficulties our cullture especially has with the expression of vulnerability, Dana. This also brings to mind the distinction between this and whining– which is a manipulative “poor me” attitude. How very different this is from revealing who we really are and what we really care about to the world–and the ways in which we would like to have other share our values and support us in being who we are capable of being.

  117. This reminds of the saying about stopping to smell the flowers, or roses…..not sure exactly but the jist is to make a point every day in our crazy lives to see the beauty in the every day things like trees. I notice my children are drawn to any tree in the area, to climb it, look at it, lean against it or just sit under it. They don’t analzye the reason why they do it, they simply do it and it is totally natural to them. I could take a lesson from them, I cannot remember the last time I just plopped down under a tree and just soaked in the moment.

  118. Trees in the city remind us that we aren’t that far from nature. Even after we lay the cement for our sidewalks, pave our roads for transportation, and build the foundations for our homes, we are not able to do so without the permission of nature. The trees of the city remind us that we are still among nature. The trees gives us shade, and shelter for the city wildlife such as squirrels and birds. It can give us it’s leaves to put in big piles to jump in, giving us something fun to do, or we can just rake them up, giving us work to do. They give us work and they give us play. But they always remind us that we are among nature, with its healing powers, whether it be in the city or the country. .

  119. The doctors are responsible for treating the body; however the psyche is an important part of the treatment especially for patients with severe illnesses, such as breast cancer as the woman in this article. Being close to the nature is the best way to treat the psyche and that is what the research showed.

  120. Great story! That’s an interesting finding that those who look out on a tree from there hospital window heal faster than those with no such view. That just shows you they need more windows in hospitals for patients to look out the window. I know when there’s a window in the doctor office, I find myself staring out looking at the wonderful landscape most hospitals surround themselves with. I’ve always felt tree’s brought life to an area, something the inside of a hospital doesn’t do. On the flip side of things, I’ve always found it really weird when a tree was chopped down in my neighborhood. Growing up, my neighbor across the street had two big birch trees in his front yard that would sway in the wind. I could always hear their leaves violently rustle during a wind or rain storm. I felt like when I couldn’t hear the trees anymore than it was okay to go outside. To be honest growing up as a little kid the two trees kind of scared me a little because the noise of the leaves rustling really got loud when a huge storm would pass by. I felt a lot of respect for those two birch trees and would always stare at them when I went outside to play or look around. But one day after about 15 years of living in the neighborhood they cut the two birch trees down. I couldn’t believe they did this. I was disappointed. I had built up such a strong connection with those two trees and now they’re gone. It made the neighborhood feel bare and lifeless, especially looking over in that particular spot where the two large birch trees once stood. There’s something to be said about nature and the life it brings to people. I know I feel a strong connection with the trees around us.

    • Thanks for sharing the story of your birch trees, Dylan. I am sorry that they were cut down. Your example points out something else as well– awe and fear and respect are often intermingled in connecting with a world so much larger than ourselves.

  121. I was truly touched by the story of the people hugging the tree in your front yard. What a beautiful experience you had. I have often felt the beauty and healing powers of trees. Walking through the redwoods in my local park I reach out touch them, and feel their strength. It instills peace within me to know that I am connected to this greatness.

    I agree that we need to abandon the sense of separateness and be vulnerable to the larger than human world. It is a beautiful thing to feel this connection. I also wanted to add that I find so much truth in the statement that interdependence not only enhances the quality of our lives, but ensures our survival.

    Thank you for the touching and wonderful article.

    • You are certainly welcome, Dana. It was a beautiful experience-how fortunate I am to live in such an area, just as you are fortunate to have your redwoods in your local park.

  122. It is interesting that science is just now catching up to what was known long ago. I’ve always found it inspiring that a massive oak tree grew from the tiny acorn. How much adversity and hardship did the tiny seed have to fight to grow over the years to the majestic oak.

  123. It is my feeling that reverence of nature is inherent. When those people hugged the tree they were showing it reverence and reciprocally they felt more healed.

    Nature is intimately connected to our healing because without nature our consciousnesses feeling trapped and suffocated. If we are able to be close with nature, we are able to be close with ourselves. When the connection is severed, I believe it is much easier to get and stay sick mentally and/or physically.

  124. This article brings to light many issues regarding people’s need for nature. The idea that people go out of their way to build parks in the midst of their cities, attests to the importance of nature in our lives. People have always had an intimate relationship with the forest and for the majority of human history have been surrounded by nature. In these modern city environments human natures draws people back to commune with nature in what sometimes seems to be bizarre ways. Not everyone who expresses a love for nature is a radical hippy tree hugger. It is a basic need of the human temperament to have access to nature and a relationship with the land. As is noted in this article, nature has long been the nurturer of the human spirit and now provides solace from the hectic sensory overload of the city. It is no wonder then that these people felt the need to hug the tree upon passing it, as they are most likely devoid of much needed contact with nature while living in their city.

    • Thoughtful analysis, Joshua. As you note, their is something basically human (that is, basically natural in that we grew up as humans immersed in nature) in the impulse to re-connect with it. And I think this act of hugging the tree would only seem bizarre from the outside- -it obviously seemed very “natural” to these women.

  125. I appreciate this essay about trees and the trees you know personally. I recognize that trees have seemingly endless ways to teach us. When I have hugged a tree in solitude (and had time to really get into it), I have always been struck by guilt and longing. I feel guilty for what we have done to the Earth and I long for the old growth forests that have been cut down.

    • Thanks for sharing both your thoughts and feelings here, Kellie. I am not sure that trees do not register the loss of their kin in some way as well, Kellie. I am thinking of a study I once read about that indicated that there were subtle biological changes in trees several miles away as a result of a clear cut of their species.

  126. Wow this tree has so many stories and memories for you. I think it would be great to have such an inviting yard that people gather to use the tree as healing, for a good stretch, shade, a place to enjoy lunch, or just a place to enjoy the scenery. My family also grows grape kiwi’s in our yard so to hear that you have them makes me happy and feel connected to you. That is so great that you share your wonderful fruits and herbs with passerby’s and can share your love for nature and natural beauty with the people of your community.

  127. These images really moved me. I like the idea that to appreciate the power of a tree, and to learn from an organism like a tree,

    “We must abandon our human separateness—our human smallness for something larger.”

    Even in our inter-human relationships, when we begin seeing urselves as superior to others we immediately stop empathizing with tem and tell ourselves that there is nothing to learn from someone “lesser”. Why should it be any different when it comes to our relation to other species?

    I believe one has to be open to a consciousness that includes everyone, and free to allow energy to enter us and for us to channel energy into other sources than what, in today’s society, would be considered normal or rational. Life begets life, and trees have a life energy too. I always wonder about their feelings and their own takes on what they have witnessed. How must the old trees that have been around for centuries here in the state of Tennessee have felt about being used in the process of lynching, for instance. Surely, I feel as though they feel more than they say. Maybe we need to listen more closely.

    • Some pointed thoughts and questions here, Hannah. I wonder how any other than human life feels about our misuse of it to carry out violence. I do think that there is a quality of witness in the long lives of such natural lives-and this respect, they have the power to show us something about ourselves.

  128. It sounds like that tree may be thriving in the love. What is more comforting than seeing huge welcoming trees and green plants peering out of every corner in the middle of a city block? They have such a calming, stress reducing effect. Considering a tree’s ability to heal itself and either develop a callus around defects or expel pests, it’s interesting that trees heal more than just themselves. The thing that makes me happiest about seeing such greenery in the middle of a city is that it exposes everyone to a piece of nature, even if the exposure is involuntary. A person has no choice, and cannot avoid a tree growing in the middle of a sidewalk. Some may decide to explore a little more and fully realize these little gifts, and some may not even notice. But it does make a difference.

    • Having such greenery in the city makes a wonderful difference, Jamie– which is why I so value Eugene’s “urban forest”– these venerable trees — and all their growing companions– do so much for us!

  129. What an inspiring story! I never really thought about it until now, but I have so many memories that I can think of in which trees play an important part. All throughout my childhood we had a great row of big trees growing next to our house, I don’t recall what kind of trees they were but I do remember that they had long swooping branches that my little brother and I used to love to climb. Unfortunately they all caught some sort of disease and we had to cut them down, but they were still a big source of my childhood happiness. One of the earliest memories I have is when my family used to live by the Redwoods in northern California. I will never forget how tiny I felt standing next to such a giant tree!
    Its memories like these and the examples you gave that show us how much of an interwoven relationship we really can have with nature. If we let it, it can help us heal and then we can return the favor by trying to heal all the wounds and stress we have been putting it under. This essay makes me want to do two things 1: go hug my own tree and 2: pay more attention to the ways in which other people interact with nature on a daily basis

    • I wonder if your childhood trees were elms and it was Dutch elm disease– sad for many stately elms. Thanks for your response, Amy– both you and your tree may appreciate the hug!

  130. Your article made me think of one of my favorite poems by Joyce Kilmer:
    I think that I shall never see
    A poem lovely as a tree.

    A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

    A tree that looks at God all day,
    And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

    A tree that may in Summer wear
    A nest of robins in her hair;

    Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    Who intimately lives with rain.

    Poems are made by fools like me,
    But only God can make a tree.

  131. You have so many neat things happen to you. First the yellowjackets, and now this. I am amazed at the people who stopped at that tree. I believe it is our duty to do the same thing. Getting close to nature and making us part of it is the part of ourselves that we have lost. It is great to see that the people who stopped to hug the tree haven’t forgotten that. The question is how many others can see what nature does for them. The trees bring back memories of when I was a child climbing them behind my house. Of course, I didn’t really think of how they grew and the importance of them. Now that I have that knowledge, I am even more appreciative of my childhood and what nature truly means to me.

    • Hi Scott. I do have so many neat things happen to me. Thanks for reminding me to be grateful. I do think we all have such neat things happen to us daily if we live in Oregon– in this magnificent landscape.

  132. I grew up torturing trees. I kicked, chipped away, broke, and did whatever wrong you could do to them. Target practice with knives was probably the meanest thing I did to trees. After reading this article I feel like I owe an apology to them. Maybe even hug them. They benefit us in so many ways. Apple trees in particular give me great pleasure. The natural ones, not the engineered ones. “This tree continues this great tradition among trees as it creates community between neighbors and strangers on my city street.” If I imagined all the row of trees in my neighborhood taken away it would be an ugly sad sight. It gives me shade and provides a very green feeling when looking out the window. Spring blossoming enlightens me. It says the sun is coming soon:)

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience– I think you are likely not unique in this culture, unfortunately, but it sounds like you have made your peace with the trees in your life, now.

  133. This makes me want to hug the trees in my yard. I have black oaks, pines and cedars. They are all very tall and old. I love them! I hear the wind howl through their branches. I hear the Stellar’s jays squawk together in unison as they jump from branch to branch. I see the snow softly define their beautiful profiles. I need trees. They make me feel a deep connection to nature. I have a wonderful yard where the trees are so happy that they make seedlings that I dig up and pot for future use or to give to friends. I have so many pots of trees I really don’t know what to do with them all. In my opinion, trees are what make a property a home. The trees in my yard are always looking down at me.

    Having read this article today was somewhat fitting since I prepared a Forestry Plan at work to give guidance on the activities of the forestry crews in Yosemite. I often feel that too many trees are cut down under the guise of safety. It is hard not to be optimistic when Yosemite has so many trees but how can so many trees be hazardous? It breaks my heart to see so many trees being cut down after fires or in areas of high use. All I can do is reduce and mitigate the impacts to natural and cultural resources – and hope that the subject matter experts know best.

    • Thanks for sharing your love of trees, Renea. It is great that you recognize your personal need for trees– even as we all need trees, since we wouldn’t be doing any breathing if we took down too many forests.
      You might be interested in viewing this video about Bhutan, where they build their economy on “gross national happiness” and their constitution stipulates no less than 60 per cent of the land must remain in forest cover: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXJwNSkdTH0

  134. Wow this is a truly amazing story. The lady hugging the tree is so inspiring. I hate cancer and unfortunately for some of us we might have the misfortune of having to battle the disease as she did. What a great view to have on nature, I admire her for being able to do what she felt was right. For all she knew you could have walked out of your house and said what are you doing weirdo, but she didn’t care. I also admire her husband because it sounds as though he is entirely devoted to the fight with her. I have not heard of the fact that “research has shown that those who look out on a tree from their hospital window heal faster than those with no such view.” It is so logical to think that a wonderful view of nature would promote the healing process, and at the same time it is something I have never considered healthcare. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  135. I really enjoyed reading this story about a tree—something than is too often overlooked—uniting the worlds of many different people. I have heard before that hospital rooms with a view support better and faster healing, so it makes sense that actually touching a tree could do even more. Indeed, “this is a recognition that we belong to the natural web of life” and that by coming from the earth we can find deep healing within the earth—healing not replicable in laboratories. While I in no way disprove of people’s attempt to find cures for diseases in laboratories, I sometimes wonder if we would even have so many diseases in the first place if we didn’t sever our ties to nature so harshly. How many of the illnesses that require manmade, synthetic medicines are manmade themselves? It would not surprise me if many were so—as reflected in this week’s quote, there is indeed “environmentally induced cancer” resulting from “carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air.” To think that we have degraded our ecosystem to the extent that actions so basic to our human survival—eating, drinking, and breathing—are potentially dangerous and causing cancer! I want to see a change, like those who wrote that letter to our President, in such that fathers and mothers like those talked about in your essay can “stop to test the kiwis for ripeness” regardless of where those kiwis might be and in absence of fear of toxins. I sometimes worry that rather than reconnect with the environment to experience mutual healing, people might opt for further removing themselves from the environment in fear of such toxins. But then I think about stories such as those shared here and my interactions with people who revere nature and I remember that the pull of nature is strong and people, whether they realize it or not, are drawn to it. Trees and flowers, mountains and lakes, snowflakes and sunshine—we have constant reminders that the earth is there for us and a part of us and it is going to take a lot more for our connections to be broken, if that is even possible.

    • Thanks for sharing your eloquent words here, Kirsten. I think it takes a good deal of denial to think of a clear cut–or a shopping mall, for that matter– as a positive result of our actions. It is interesting that even those who spend their time razing the natural world in order to gain money from this themselves wish to live in beautiful natural settings– where all the most expensive homes are placed.
      Now if we could just learn to value our intuitions in this regard–and to care for the natural world rather than poisoning it. Certainly our work to heal cancer must be work to heal the natural world– not to attempt to control or manipulate it in the ways that have resulted in so much wounding of humans and more than human lives that share our world with us.

      • Yes indeed. And your mentioning of placing all the most expensive homes in beautiful natural settings makes me think of the many “vacation” homes back in Montana (and no doubt all over, I’m just familiar with my home state). People spends millions on a second home that is often used only a few weeks to a couple months out of the entire year. And these homes are not placed in town but on the hilltops and mountain sides. It is almost a contradiction–we value nature so much as a vacation area and spend millions of dollars to have that option for vacation…but we struggle to give up the luxeries available to us everyday that are there at the expense of the environment. I think a lot of us is so burried in our economy and culture that people may not even realize the true consequenses of our actions, which brings me to the though of warning labels on products discussed in “Think before you buy: Consumerism warning labels.” As much as I want to stay out of the corporate world and the like, I’m starting to realize how much they actually control and influence our lives just based on the fact that we live in America. What if we change the corporate culture and make what’s good for the environment (and people as a whole) the profitable route? There would be less to hide and more to gain. And love for tnature will be rightfully seen in the corporate world as love for humanity… and even profit too.

        • There are some folks in corporations that are trying to effect such a change–you can find some of them in our “links” section here– they are not in the majority, but our shopping habits along with support for regulations that truly favor social and environmental justice could help shift corporate culture— not to mention, the constitutional amendment proposed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives (see “Beyond Damage Control”).
          It would be great to see all these things work together to move us in the right direction so that we do indeed reward (monetarily and otherwise) what we truly want in this society. Thanks for your comment, Kirsten.

  136. This was a great article. I am comforted when I think of trees and how long hey have been a part of the earth. They are some of the oldest living things on the planet!
    Also, your definition of survival of the fittest is quite right. I always thought of it in terms of competition, but fitting in with natural systems seems a better analysis. When I think of it in these terms, it seems to be less of a contradiction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashley. I think we find a good deal of joy in our lives when we find our sense of belonging– fitting in with natural systems rather than attempting to control, manipulate or remake– or simply ignore- them.

  137. I like that the women hugging your tree weren’t concerned about how it looked to other people. As a child I used to love climbing trees and siting in them all day long. I wouldn’t think twice about hugging a tree then. The eyes of children tend to be wide open, they see things we do not. I think we all have the ability to see the connections we have with nature, we just suppress them as we get older. Probably because we get too caught up in other things.

    • There was a recent study that indicated that children are connected to nature in different ways depending on the cultures of their parents, Jennifer. Great to give children (as well as the child inside yourself) a chance to express itself in its connection to the natural world.

  138. This is a great post; it is such an interesting story, with such a deep meaning. I admit I don’t think I have ever seen anyone hug a tree before to be honest, but I know in the past personally I have, but purely out of fun, not out of a need for healing. I have heard before of people who are ill with views of nature, or access to being outside and in nature having a faster healing rate, as well as being in overall better spirits. I think that as a result of being in better spirits from being able to see the beauty and miracle of the world around us, this in of itself can be healing. As we read in Schaeffer healing does not just take place in the body, but also in the mind, and I think that these women who were hugging the tree, were getting some kind of mental healing from this experience, which in turn helped heal their body, which kept them coming back to this tree.

    • I would like to see what brings us joy and what brings us healing as connected, Megan. Certainly, honoring the “miracle of the world around us” can lead us closer to a full healing of body, mind and spirit together. Thanks for your comment.

  139. One thing I love about this is how simple the need to connect to nature is. How we find a healing, a part of ourselves soothed by something as simple as hugging a tree.

    It is also interesting to see, how many new hospitals are being built with more nature being brought in to meld with the patients, how more of the space is being adapted to form atriums, spots of nature within the sterile environment.

    Another thing I have noticed at a recent funeral was the difference in the flowers being sent to the family, no longer was the majority of them cut bouquets in vases, but now the trend seems to be going towards actual plants, ones that will survive longer then the week a bouquet will last.

    There seems to be a recognition among a lot of people that having some bit of nature in their work areas and living areas help bring a sense of calm and connection to the rest of nature and those around them.

    • Lovely examples of the simple healing power of nature we seem to be discovering, Sam. Let’s hope this will motivate us to take care of the incredible gift each of us inherit with life on this earth.

  140. After reading this article it should come as little surprise the Buddha reached enlightenment underneath a tree.

  141. This has been my favorite article throughout the course. For me, it really sums up all we have been discussing throughout the course such as the dwindling relationship between humans and the natural world, but it also brings a bit of hope in the form of your encounters with visitors to this tree. We should embrace, sometimes literally, trees and nature for what various things they bring us; life with oxygen, shade, beauty. On campus I have been known to trudge through thick brush to give a tree a hug when it is lesser admired next to the other huge trees in the quad, just to let it know it is appreciated. At the time it was on the surface, all in jest, and supposed to be funny (haha that tree feels left out, because it is not as big and respected as the others) but I can honestly say i felt a great reverence for that tree and all trees in that instant. Ever since then I have come back to see that tree- we are now good friends. Thank you for another thought provoking article.

    • You are welcome, Cheyanne. Such stories as yours add to my hope for a future in which we are truly “good friends” with the lives that share our planet and bring us our own lives.

  142. Sounds like you have a really cool yard! What a great story that reminds us of the healing power of nature. There’s nothing better than climbing or sitting under a big tree. Trees are a sort of grounded strength that share with us the inherent sacredness of nature, and being outside around and in nature can help us attain enlightenment, spiritual maturity and even a type of religious fulfillment. Our human existence involves connectedness, and a respect for and identity with our natural environment. Clearly, people feel this energy as they walk by your house.

  143. We need to practice replacing the “survival of the fittest” idea with at an idea that deals more with sharing. Sharing is one of the most important values we can all learn from indigenous peoples. Humans, plants, animals etc, we all share this planet and we all depend on each other to survive. With that thought in mind just imagine if the more industrialized nations were more wiling to share their assets with the less industrialized nations how much farther advanced we would be at ending hunger, global warming, and other problems that threaten the existence of life as we know it. A first step at making this happen would be to realize that the work “asset” does not always mean money or something materialistic. Sharing can be something as simple as allowing your neighbors to enjoy the old maple tree in front of your house or even to share its story with others. You never know what little thing may actually be a big thing in someone else’s life.

    • Lovely response, Mildred. There are so many small things we do that may mean something to others– even though we do not know this at the time. Sharing is an essential value to replace the “survival of the fittest”– which is why I am heartened by the goal of the Network of Spiritual Progressives to create a society whose essential value is care.

  144. I remember when I was younger I spent a lot of time climbing trees and just hanging out in trees while I read books. Trees brought me a lot of joy as a kid and now I can’t remember the last time I touched a tree besides the small banana tree in my house. When I was a kid it didn’t seem silly to enjoy the trees in my neighborhood. Now if someone saw me climbing a tree they would think I was crazy. Maybe next time I see a good climbing tree I’ll go ahead and just climb it!

    • Good for you, Tiffany! Just as you don’t go tumbling twenty feet down from a broken branch as my daughter did when she was younger. Luckily she fell in soft grass and though she jarred herself, didn’t break or sprain anything. Though it might not seem like it, evergreens have the most brittle branches, so utility folks hesitate to climb them.

  145. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I really enjoyed this article and the whole meaning behind it. I found it interesting that the presence of a tree could aid in the healing of people. However, it has also been noted that people heal better around animals, so it makes sense that the same could be true for plants. Pulling from the idea of interconnectedness, it’s apparent that our relation to all life forms on this planet can be called upon to help us out. Only, we need to be cautious in abusing such a relationship.

  146. It is supremely sad how we’ve taken Darwin’s ideas and manipulated them to mean what we want them to mean. I’m not exactly a science buff, but from what I remember from biology, his work is about how humans and other species adapted to best fit the natural environment. But today we use it as a reason for competition amongst ourselves, as a reason to stab our fellow man in the back. I think that it is very important that we get back to the original idea, and figure out how we can fit with nature. We shouldn’t expect nature to bend to our whims. We can take that worldview if we want, but we cannot live that way sustainably. Eventually, (sooner rather than later) it will catch up to us, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

    Yes, it is a worldview that stresses the importance of nature that will help us to hug a tree. What we need to realize is that this worldview is inherent to each one of us, and is beaten out gradually by advertisements that tell us we’re not good enough, a school system that pits people against each other, etc. If we have bought into all of that nonsense, we need to start seeing nature like we did when we were kids. When a giraffe was the coolest thing in the world. When flowers had magical powers. When a tree could heal. We need to combine the eyes of a child with the responsibility of adulthood. Only then will we find our true place in nature.

    • I love your idea of recovering a part of ourselves that entails wonder and joy–and I think, also values of connection and care that many of us would like to recover. It is important to support such values in one another–and to listen to what the natural world might teach us as we become wholly present to our lives. Thanks for your comment.

  147. I really enjoyed the stories about various people stopping to enjoy trees. Growing up as an Oregonian, trees are something that I consider a staple to a landscape– hence plains look very bare to me. I was camping last weekend and there was a tree in the middle of our site. A fellow camper and I examined the tree, wondering how old it might be. That led to the conversation of how much the tree had seen in its several hundred years of life and how hard it was to comprehend the length of time that a single living thing had stood in that place.
    I think that there is something to be said about the “survival of the fittest”. While this was originally intended as more of an idea of the most dominant beings surviving, I think that they saying applies now to those who are most fit within their environment. Those who try and dominant their environment in order to survive will find that they are unfit and that the resources necessary for life will be snuffed out. However, those that can find balance and fit into their environment will find longevity and a system of reciprocity that allows for the continuance of generations.

  148. I really liked this essay, it starts with a wonderful anecdote and I agree with the end, that we should shelter each other. When I was young I can faintly remember a huge tree in our backyard we called the “monster” it was a gnarled tree and we would climb it as children and fear and revere it all at the same time. I love trees =) I may not actually hug them, but I definitely rest under them from time to time and climb them often 🙂

  149. It is a beautiful story, about how two woman stop by to hug the tree, after they went through something difficult, like cancer and the surgery because the tree was helping heal them. Trees in the city really are a magical thing. Their roots are under layers of cement, and people really do enjoy them on hot days for their shade.

    All through out my life I have really loved trees. I have always had a sort of connection with trees, and they are really calming to me. So I can understand how the two woman in the stories felt that the tree was healing them. In my mind nature really is a magical, and does have healing powers.

    • Thanks for your sharing about your own love of trees and your sense of their “magical, healing powers”, Ayla.

    • I really liked your personal touch of having a connection with trees. Trees can be very calming and relaxing. It is nice to think that beliefs that trees can save are around, because it makes it possible to believe in anything!

  150. This is quite a interesting story and as I look outside where I live I see a number of trees and really I just smile. To me the article showed how often at times trees have more experience than we do with life, some trees live hundreds of years while we just live decades. To me this is something that encourages life. Trees ultimately deal with interactions with all forms of life yet they survive and I think that encourages us to seek the tree for support.

    Also, I thought about the expression, “tree of life” and I think this ultimately is why many of us see such a connection with a simple thing such as a tree.

  151. I had similar experiences when I lived in western Washington. We had Apple, Pear, and Cherry trees along with a vegetable garden and wild blackberries surrounding our property. At least a few times a week we would have a knock on our door asking for some of our abundant fruits and inquiries about our veggies. I loved the sense of community that a tree provides. Now that we live in Florida, gardens are impossible for me to grow and I’ve become reliant on better growers for my food but we do have a GIANT River Birch growing in our front yard. Our neighbors saw us pruning the tree and begged for us not to cut it down because of the beauty and shade it provides (they were unaware that pruning did not mean we were cutting down the entire tree). Simply from those experiences I have come to see every tree as a community feature whether it is open or hidden by a fence. Everyone benefits from the healing effects of trees.

  152. We all need to go back to our original roots of coexisting with nature. At some point along our journey today, we lost the sense of being family with nature. It is true nature can make you feel a lot better. I often enjoy hikes through the woods to clear my mind from a stressful day. Nature has this calming affect on me.

  153. This story made me think about the relationship I had growing up with the trees in my own backyard. As a little girl I spent hours playing in an old maple tree by the side of our house that I called “The Singing Tree”. I would sit in the crook of the tree trunk and sing every song that came into my head, making up words and melodies as I went along. My entire family started calling the maple “The Singing Tree” and when it became to old and rotten and for safety reasons my father had to cut it down we all mourned its loss. At four years old I was so inspired by the tree that it made me sing. Inspired by my singing, my father took the wood from the tree and used it to build furniture for our home. I know that while he worked in his workshop he would think of me as a little girl singing in the tree. The furniture he built was full of love for me and for the gift the tree had given our family.

    • What a lovely image of your “Singing Tree”, Hannah, and the family connection that linked you to your father and the furniture he made through this tree! Thanks for sharing this personal example of the place of a tree in our family life.

  154. We as humans can learn so much from trees. They stand so tall with strong cores that allow them to be prominent at times but also to bend with the wind when need be. They give shelter to a variety of different animal species, insects and other plant life. They take in carbon dioxide and release the precious oxygen that we as humans could not live without. They do this with no need for a thank you or recognition. They just live their lives wherever they grow. Trees are apart of the greater whole, an iatrical part of the network. We as humans should attempt to just live our lives in a way that is apart of the network. To understand, as trees do, that the only way to live is a apart of the greater whole.

    • Lovely homage to trees, Julie. They are all these things and if we think about it, we could probably continue the list on and on, they are so much to us. Thanks for this comment.

  155. This is a really beautiful story. What a great experience to have such a social tree in your yard! I am glad I read this essay because I had never heard of trees having healing powers, or the idea of looking at a tree from a hospital bed can help heal a patient faster. Such a beautiful idea. Living in the Boise Idaho “The City of Trees,” i feel i must have overlooked their power and healing specialties. Sometimes i like to think about trees, especially the redwoods, and if they could talk what they would say. Most trees have been around for years and years, and think about everything that they would know. Their branches are leaves are full of mysteries, secrets and knowledge.

  156. Again the topic of “Survival of the Fittest” comes up. There is such a flawed idea I feel about this. People feel the most aggressive and dominant creatures will climb the food chain, when in fact it is simply the most adaptable to its surroundings, or those that happen to have a minor genetic difference in a time of crisis that causes it to thrive. In your example about the genetically modified rice in Bangladesh, yes it makes sense that being able to produce as much rice as possible in a country that has yearly monsoon flooding, but at the same time, if, as it turns out, there is an issue with the rice, there is no diversity for people to fall back on. Creatures that are highly specialized almost always die out first, so why would humans want to mimic this obviously flawed trait?

  157. I am quite amused, in a pleasant non-scoffing sort of way, at the picture of people finding your tree to be particularly powerful. It makes me want to pay more attention to how people interact with the various plants outside my place.

    On a slightly more serious note, I found the suggestion that plants, used as intermediaries, can help bring people together to be very interesting. Growing up in scouts, helping my parents in the garden, and now camping with my friends throughout the summer I have to say that this should have been more obvious to me. As your article suggested, plant life can have direct affects on humans (helping healing in particular) I wonder if the continuing urbanization and super city explosion will damage some innate affinity we have both for nature and each other.

    • I think you have hit on an important point about the losses of community we suffer with the losses of natural life around us, Thomas. As the experiment at the end of “You can’t blame it on nature” found, there is something in the natural world that causes us to respond in a more caring and communal way toward one another. When even a plant on a desk makes folks more caring, I hate to think of what we lose of ourselves when we subtract whole forests from our environment. Thanks for your comment.

  158. Great point. Our ability to be “fit” to survive depends not on our ability to dominate the earth but rather through our ability to acknowledge and embrace our place in the natural world and show it the respect that it deserves as the source of our lives.

  159. I find the concept of hugging a tree very interesting especially with the believe that you will be healed or the pain would go away faster. In my culture i know trees are most used for medications and treament which are made from the leaves. But i guess you need to belief and have the deep connection and sense of belonging.

  160. Reading this reminded me of another web essay that I read a while back:

    http://scienceray.com/biology/botany/can-trees-talk-to-each-other/

    It was about an interesting research discovery about how trees can communicate with each other through “pheromone hydrocarbon ethylene” (see website for details).

    It got me starting to think that maybe our bodies somehow unconsciously communicate to trees or interact with them somehow; possibly through pheromones. Just a thought of course, no real evidence or anything that I know of.

  161. I really enjoyed this article, it showed our interconnectedness with nature, the divine creator, and each other. It shows are true connection to spirt and how connecting with nature can provide both grounding and healing. Articles like this remind me to truly respect and appreciate our natural surroundings in which we live. It also makes me feel saddened that us human beings cut them down in the name of industrial technology and profit. In earlier times we had vast amounts of land. We truly lived in a paradise with an abudance of wild life and plants. Then came modern industrial technology that has lead to biologically barren lands and the destruction of nature.

    • I am with you on the idea that this living earth is a spiritual gift–and when we cut a tree it should be for a very good reason– since we are not only cutting the efficiency of our own lungs, but we are cutting a living being from which we might learn profound spiritual lessons. Thanks for your comment.

    • I enjoyed reading this article also. Having an anchor in life to always go back to or to help you stay true yourself is always important. We all have that anchor whether it be family, friends or a tree.
      I just thought about this… but i think so many trees were cut down for expansion because of the baby boom. Do you think this was a reason for so much expanding? With bigger families and an increase in population, people needed a place to stay and some didn’t want to stay in the city.

      • Yours is an idea that is perhaps too generous, Will. Over-population is certainly a serious problem, and that population does need housing. But folks were also clear cutting in the pioneer era. Thoughtful idea nonetheless.

  162. I want to see this tree too! 🙂
    What I found most interesting about this article was how patients heal faster with a tree outside their window. I am curious to how this works. It sounds so interesting. But, I think that the tree is an amazing product of nature. It has so many uses and is so useful in so many aspects. I believe that if we can work together as a family, we can help each other to protect the land we live on. By doing this, we extend the longevity of everyone and it would benefit many people around us. Having that anchor in life would help build strong bonds and relationships. The same way this tree has helped create a strong bond between father and son, and helping patients heal quicker.

    • There is a picture of it here, but of course, not the same as seeing the real thing, Will. It would be interesting to know how watching green things facilitates our healing process– but I am also satisfied with the wonder in some things. My rational assumption would be that we came to be human among growing things– and since we know mental health facilitates healing, being among the green things that are “home” to us in this way helps healing.
      I very much like your idea of the tree as anchor; certainly its rootedness and connection to place and time has much to teach us about connecting to one another, as you note. Very nice comment!

    • I also thought it was really cool that patients heal faster with a tree outside their window! It makes a lot of sense; I’m certainly happier when I have access to growing things. I may have been known to hug a tree or two of my own…

      • Delightful, Allison.

      • I agree with you Allison, nature has a way of bringing about happiness. I too enjoyed the part of the essay about patients healing faster after being exposed to nature. I wonder why we don’t hear more about these types of instances? Perhaps more studies need to be carrying out making a correlation between healing and nature, both in hospital settings and elsewhere. I know for me, I always feel better being outdoors and surrounded by living things.

        • I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t, Jamie. I know several parents have a similar experience to the one I had when my daughter was a baby. All I had to do was take her outside and she immediately stopped fussing.

      • I am replying to Jamie Groleau’s comment. There have been loads of studies done showing the healing effects that trees and simply a view of nature, something green, have on hospital patients. There are even new hospitals being built that are intentionally incorporating such areas into their hospitals for patients.

  163. Trees are so strong that it makes sense that they would be good healers. I’m always surprised watching children climb trees and how they can jump on and bend the branches so much, but the branches don’t give. Trees are strong yet flexible.
    They are also so full of life and never really stop growing. Year after year they get a little bigger, giving forth new leaves and flowers. This constant growth also seems to be something that could be very healing being around and having in view.

    • I like your connection of the strength of the tree to its strength in healing, Andy. If we look to trees as our teachers, being strong and flexible is a worthy balance to model. Being full of life and continuing to grow are more lessons still we might take from those who produce the breath of the earth. Thanks for your comment.

    • I agree that trees give us so much that we take for granted. I remember the first tree I ever climbed, and how proud I was of myself. They are natural healers, and an important part of the earth. We need to stop taking them for granted, or we will lose their gift to us.

  164. How interesting that two separate couples came to the same tree for healing. I think this really does show the similarity among humans, even if some are unwilling to acknowledge their roots in nature. The idea that “the eyes of the world are looking at you” makes a lot of sense to me. Like you mentioned, ecology shows the interconnectedness between ALL organisms and their environment, and humans are no exception.

    Unfortunately, “survival of the fittest” is greatly misunderstood by the general populace. The word “fit” in our language means something different than its intended use by Darwin. An organism isn’t fit if it can run fast, its fitness is determined by how much it is able to propagate its genetic information in the next generation.

    • It was interesting that this happened, Allison–though it has not happened that I am aware of since– may have something to do with a dog that my neighbors leave in their front yard that barks at all comers now.
      Important point about what constitutes “fitness”.

    • The idea that “the eyes of the world are looking at you” makes sense to me as well. We must acknowledge them in order to preserve our environment better. Also you make a good point that humans are no exception to the interconnectedness of all species.

  165. This essay reminds me of a discussion I had with my husband just last week. We were driving around town and came upon an older neighborhood, one with houses built in the 50’s or 60’s. I commented on how much I love these old neighborhoods compared to the newer subdivisions and he told me it was because of the trees. I had to stop and look for a moment and he was right, but he usually is. This neighborhood had large mature trees lining the street on both sides, creating a canopy over the street. It had a wonderfully welcome feel to it and made the entire neighborhood seem homey. These trees make me feel at home and happy, it sounds corny, but it makes my soul happy to be in places where nature thrives. New subdivisions seem so cold and sterile, due to the lack of vegetation, but these older established neighborhoods have character and soul.

  166. After reading this essay, I found a sense of reverence, gratitude and humility must’ve been shared by those two women who intimately connected with that tree. As you expressed, people have to recognize their vulnerability before they can come to terms with a holistic understanding of the natural world. Truthfully, I find it slightly odd to refer to our surroundings as the “natural world”. I guess I’m unsure of what would be unnatural? I’ve also found myself staring at a tree or shrub that’s been confined to some concrete enclosure and wondering why it thrives there. It seems crazy that we are just now learning the importance of interdependence when so many cultures have possessed this knowledge through the ages. I have to admit that I’ve never thought about the meaning of “survival of the fittest” in the true sense of understanding the word “fittest”. We were raised to associate this phrase with an ethnocentric point of view when we only needed to grasp it pluralistically.

    • I think you have a point in terms of your query about just what might be “unnatural” Ryan– since it seems to me that many current environmental crises derive from the idea that the environment is “out there” away from (or under) us and that this dualistic stance leads to the dangerous dismissal of the importance sources of our own sustenance.
      A pluralistic and interdependent approach is a good remedy for this–and we abdicate what is special about our own humanity (passing on learning from the past) when we neglect the elder-human history that tells us of our interdependence. Thanks for sharing this perspective.

  167. What a lovely essay around the way our beloved tree friends support and help us to heal with their kindness. It appears that this tree had taken on the role of healer for those who had been “cut into’ and it appears, to call to those who need the assistance. Given that the tree is confined within the materials of our human, physical world, the fact that the tree flourishes, is a testament to love. That is an example of how we can reach out to our fellow human with love and hugs. As Madronna shares, what a wonderful role model this tree is.
    I found Henry Cultee’s sharing that the “multiple eyes of natural life determine our longevity, as persons and as people”, profoundly moving.
    I believe that recognition of the person of the tree awakens a deeper connection. The awareness on the tree’s part is always there, it’s our awakening to the expanded communication that opens the dialogue.
    I have had long personal relationships to trees that I have shared land with and at times have had the good grace to dance with these trees. This was a joyful and caring response, as over time we developed a relationship of respect and delight in each other’s company.
    When I lived in Europe, I found that the ancient trees, that sadly we don’t have many left here in the US, responded very quickly to conversation. They appeared to have had a longer continuous connection to human/tree interactions, from times when this was the norm, for what was millenniums. The trees would often shake their leaves in response to a “hello’.
    Bless these loving and caring beings. Thanks for this very lovely sharing.

    Please, give that beautiful tree a hug for me.

    • I will do that, Maureen– though it is sleeping for the winter at present. It sits outside my window and gives me much inspiration as I write.
      Thank you for a touching response.

    • I actually really appreciated this essay as well. I thought the part about the tree, and the strangers hugging it seemed very inspirational. I too know what its like to be in a hospital and just wish you were outside, and looking out at nature is very pleasing. A tree truly is a wonderful model

  168. When the elders say “the eyes of the world”, which was what I assumed to be nature, determines your longevity. My question is, does that pertain to every single aspect of nature? Does that elder believe that if our dna determines us to get cancer, that that is natures intention for us. And if they believe so much that nature determines our longevity, why do they have medicine men to help with illnesses and things that happen in nature?

    It seems like a fine line to walk, so I needed some clarification. Thoughts?

    • Thoughtful question, Sarah–though you seem to have misunderstood the main point behind “the eyes of the world are looking at you.” The eyes of the world determine your longevity based on your behavior toward other life. This is not about determinism but choice to take an ethical stance toward other lives.
      I hope this clears up this confusion for you.

  169. It is absolutely true that hospital patients with a view of nature have shown to heal faster than hospital patients with no such view. Many hospitals being built today are incorporating healing courtyards filled with trees and flowers which patients have access. I definitely agree with the statement that trees as well as all of nature have healing effects on humans, although my opinion is based on a less religious viewpoint. Trees have more than just healing effects on people; they make people feel happier, they have numerous benefits for the environment and they have even proven to reduce stress and crime rates. I think this article is a nice reminder that trees are an integral part of our environment and should be incorporated into as many city areas as possible.

  170. I agree with the author that we must abandon our “survival of the fittest” mentality and learn to respect our environment. I think it is amazing that patients in hospitals heal faster if they have a view of trees. Trees provide our society with so many things. Most importantly, trees provide shelter and a habitat for all sorts of living creatures and spirits. I admit, before reading this article I would have thought a person hugging a tree might be insane. But now if I witnessed this, I will automatically think of this article and understand. I also like the point that we must be vulnerable to the larger than human world. That is essential if we are to progress in helping preserve our earth.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful personal response, Kyle. I appreciate it. I like your indication of one way in which we might re-define the more stereotypical view of “progress”.

  171. This story reminds me a lot of the children’s story The Giving tree. It is a story about a boy and a tree growing old together. It shows a relationship between the boy and the tree and how they become one with each other and dependent on each other.

    • This story influenced many children–you are not the first to mention here. Thanks, Kim.

    • I was also reminded of The Giving Tree, which is a great story. This story also reminded me of a Jabong tree that I used to walk by everyday when I lived on Kauai. It was a big tree and it was always full of fruit. Jabong are like grapefruit but a little different. The tree stood within a fenced yard but a good portion of it hung over into the street. I remember picking up some fruit that had fallen onto the ground- I didn’t think much of it after all it was just going to rot or get run over and there was tons in the yard. One day as I walked by I grabbed a jabong off the ground. A lady came running out of the house yelling that the jabong were not for taking and that no one had a right to have the fruit but her. I apologized and offered to help her pick up the ones off the ground. She told me she didn’t even like the fruit and had no use for it. I was very confused. I guess I was reminded of this story because Dr Holden’s reaction was completely different than the jabong lady’s. I would have really liked for the lady to acknowledge that the tree had lots to offer many others besides herself.

      • I have never seen a Jabong tree. Thanks for introducing me to something completely new.
        Thoughtful point about owning a tree. I really like gleaning projects that organize people to pick and share food that would otherwise go to waste.

  172. Very excellent interpretation of “survival of the fittest!” It’s always frustrated me how many folks misguidedly adopt the idea that humans exist merely as individuals – and the personal effort they put into their lives and their day to day interactions are meant to be based on benefiting only the individual. I am still grateful to the professor who pointed out to his class that ‘scientists are discovering’ that the purpose of life is not merely to survive or pass on our genes, but to *help others survive.* As a psychology student, I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of interesting research and theories on altruism. Even though many psychologists have thought for years along the same individualized theories of “survival of the fittest” and that the individual lives for the individual’s sake – there’s been a lot of exciting research in the past few years about how empathy and altruism are instinctively built into human behavior (something I’m sure many cultures are already aware of, but another example of our relatively young tradition of western science finally catching up with hundreds of years of research done by those who truly appreciate communal living).

    It just reminded me, too, of how humans need “seven touches a day” to stay emotionally well and healthy. Many people assume this means human interaction – but the wonderful reality is, cuddling with one’s cat or interacting with any other part of the natural world serves the same purpose. Clearly, we’re all designed to fulfill our deep, inherent connection with nature – human or not.

  173. I think there is strength in a tree. And if a tree could talk, wow. I can see the attraction to trees. I feel better when I am relaxing in an area with trees. Walla Walla is a City with cool trees. I know people who stay in the hospitals would rather stay in the one you can look out and see trees than the one they cannot. This ties into your article. Good article.

    • Thanks, Bob. The character of any city is certainly linked to the character of its trees. If a tree could speak about what it has witnessed, indeed!

    • I believe trees do talk; we are just to disconnected to understand in a cognitive level with our limited human understanding. This article provides us a clear example of that. Many cultures around the world who have long-established relationships with the spirits of plants and animals do communicate; it is just in a way most of the Western world is not familiar with. These people were not even aware of why they were drawn to the tree for such powerful healing, it is an energetic field they are not able to see with their eyes but their higher-self is drawn to.

      Great insight with the healing power of trees and why they are so important in such healing places as hospitals.

  174. This story touched me because it has such parallels in my life. My very best friend has just completed treatment for breast cancer and is awakening to all of the things she never saw or felt before her ordeal. One of the things she has started to notice is large wonderful trees and the power they have. She used to make fun of me for stopping during a walk in the cities we visit to touch an old oak tree, but now she gets it. My favorite picture of her is under an Acacia tree in Argentina, laughing because she couldn’t get near it !

    Trees indeed have the power to remind us of our link with nature and our joy in living.

    • Thank you for sharing your touching story about your best friend’s cancer and her new found love of trees– obviously, she is very blessed to have you to stand by her during this time.
      And I am glad you kept on expressing your own joy at what some native peoples call the “one leggeds”– even in the face of the laughter of others.

    • Awe. Thanks for sharing. Trees really do have a great power. I went to a vortex in Montana a couple years ago and really felt the power of a tree during this time. I have also had two very close calls with death and it has made me think and see things a lot differently. I am not as careless as I was and I am more open and honest with myself and my surroundings.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal experience and learning here, Jen. I think we miss many gifts in our lives by failing simply to be fully present to our world. It is great that you took your own brushes with death as the occasion to better honor the gift of your life.

  175. I wonder if the people stopping in awe of your tree knew of the power and healing it was offering them. This was a wonderful story and reminder to be thankful for the energy and life tree’s offer us in so many different ways. Not have tree’s offered us shelter, wood, in the very houses we live in, but they contribute to the production of the oxygen we breath in every day. Those are just the obvious gifts, but when stories like these are told they tell a deeper story of their powerful energy and healing ability to attract people who are walking by.

    I have a favorite tree I visit often, even if only in my thoughts, it has a powerful energy I can connect with and receive healing from, and this article reminded me on so many levels to be thankful for the love and support tree’s all over the world have provided humanity. Deforestation is occuring all over the world, people have become so disconnected from nature they often do not even know why they are drawn to a particular tree or part of nature when they seek healing. This was a lovely story.

    • Thank you, Angel. I am not sure it is as important to understand why we are drawn to a particular place (as many of us would give this explanation in differing terms), as to listen to ourselves when this happens.
      Whether we describe this on the level of spirit or science, we are destroying the lungs of the earth in this process of deforestation.

    • Me too Angel.

      I used to love climbing trees as a kid, and even though I am a little skittish of insects, I remember loving the ants and the moss and the whole web of life that would exist as I grazed above the canopy.

      Some of my most favorite memories are in the presence of a tree, and they are such beautiful and magnificent beings that i can see why each and every human shows an innate connection.

    • Deforestation is happening in countries where trees are money and not anything else. Look at tree plantations for biofuel, we have created an internal lifeless super hybrid tree just for profit. They may have energy for growth, but lifeless as its purpose. Trees do have life and a healing power, just look at the California Redwood Park. Amazing trees just full of life, giants that puts you in awe. When you try and give them a hug, it’s just like a big bear hug sharing its energy.

  176. I agree completely that there are many powers of nature; psychological, and emotional that can translate right into physical changes and healing. I see a direct relation to the way that the builders in Gaviotas wanted to make the hospital open and connected to nature. It was to be a healing area that uplifted the spirit as well as having actual medical practices.

  177. It is amazing how a little green in all of our lives can do so much. It is pretty sad that as the article points out, it has only recently been discovered by researchers and city planners that even a tree can add sooooo much to the people in an urban environment. I am a firm believer that the way we build homes, apartments buildings, condos, and businesses impacts our health. I think everyone benefits from a tree being planted outside their window at home or at work….especially outside their hospital room. I really like this article!

    • Yes, i know what you mean! It’s about time people realized it right? Even just putting a plant up in an office is said to elevate feelings of happiness so doesn’t a whole tree make even more sense?

    • I am glad you liked this, Brad! It is absolutely true how a “little green in our lives can do so much”. I am heartened by the urban gardening movement as well as tree planting projects in urban area.
      Thanks for your comment.

  178. Years ago when I was a teen ager I never understood what the importance was of the shade tree commision. I can remeber my parents wanting to build an addition on the house, but the town was giving them a difficult time because a number of large maple trees would have to be cut down in order for the construction to happen. Why would the town care about a few dumb trees. I wanted my new bedroom. The nerve of them. In the end we moved instead of building, and those trees survived. Now much later in life I have a much clearer understanding of the value of a tree. It is home to mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. It helps stop erosion, and provides oxygen and shade year round. It has aesthetic beauty as it greens in the spring, flowers inthe summer, and changes colors in the fall. Kids climb on it, swing on it, and use it as third base. So while I am not a suburban tree hugger, I do respect and value trees as I grow old with them.

    • Where were you and this shade tree commission? Lovely point about growing old with trees and maturing your personal story along with your knowledge.
      It is interesting that my parents had to fight to KEEP the old cedars when they built their house, as the developers wanted to take the easy way of mowing them all down. I like this tree commission that would keep us from making mistakes and then regretting them latter. A lot of years would have been erased by taking down those old cedars that still stand near my parents’ house.

  179. I believe that the shared life is a much richer one as well. I also believe in the healing properties of life. Likewise I also love the moments in life where surface confines dwindle away and humans are simply allowed to.. “hug a tree”. Simply yet saving.

    I think that the collective un conscience is alive and well and we are not too distant to remember the real things in life, and too know that we are not the only life in a dead world.

    Consumerism has done its share to create more abstraction from our indigenous roots, but every once and a while you can get a glimpse of human beauty in a raw secure moment.

    I like to hug trees and feel the breeze. I like to race rivers and taste the wind. All the things in life that make me more in touch with being human.

    The smell of car tires, and petroleom-based perfumes just don’t cut it for me. So, in celebration of life…”Go Tree Huggers!”

    • Your comment gave me a smile, Shana. I like your idea about what we gain when we follow the intuitive bodily knowledge that prompts us to connect with life in a spontaneous way– even if that way might seem a little silly to onlookers who aren’t prompted by the same intuitions to embrace the world of other lives.

  180. I am a tree hugger that is also skilled in the use of a chainsaw and in felling trees, usually fire-weakened and destined to fall, but also in thickets of overstocked pine once abated by frequent low intensity fire, now threatening what is left of old growth through competition, disease and uncharacteristically intense wildfire. When I have been observed talking to a tree prior to falling it, I have been asked why and what I was saying. I always ask the tree if it is ready to die, if it knows why. Sometimes it isn’t, which I feel badly about when we have to fell it anyway for reasons of firefighter safety or keeping fire within our control lines. It is hard not to feel hubristic, like I am “playing God” when I am thinning, but it is with the health of the forest in mind, and the eye of artist that I try to do justice to a beautiful mismanaged landscape. I wonder how clear the distinction between tree hugger and tree killer really is.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here. Some excellent points and balance — I think that we are constantly choosing how to use our human power, and since we don’t have an omniscient stance we can only do the best we can with, as you indicate, the eye of an artist and an open heart.
      I recently had to make a decision to allow a tree to be taken down in my yard since it was leaning toward my neighbor’s house, had some disease, and potentially dangerous. When it told me it was ready to lay itself down, I felt its immense continuing generosity in line with the previous generosity of shade and weather protection it had provided–and pine nuts for other species. I shed some tears over such graciousness and the need to make a decision to cut this kind tree.
      But we are woven into life and death–and our time will also come for both in our own bodies. Perhaps we can learn something from our magnificent fellow travelers of other species about fitting into the larger system of life and death with grace.
      I think there is a vast difference between the sustainable logging that entail walking through a stand of trees and the clear-cutting that mows down all life from the land, piles its leftovers up and burns it as slash, compacting the soil and polluting nearby streams in the process– and then sprays herbicides to maintain a monoculture of the most economically profitable species.
      I also know that there is a tradition that the people of Puget Sound went through their immense cedar forests until they found a volunteer willing to be cut for their houses– which would then stand for generations. Part of this tradition is that once a tree volunteered to do this, it would find a way to get to the house site as well– a considerable issue given the weight of such trees and their difficulty to move. I also know some who felt certain trees should never be cut: a Chehalis elder told an early anthropologist they would never cut up cottonwood for firewood since it was inhabited by spirits, moving on its own even when the wind was still. I talked to a native logger at Makah who told me no native logger he knew would collude in the cutting of alder– which was meant to heal the land. So that whenever alder was due to be cut, he and his friends would all walk off the job.
      I am sure there are interwoven spiritual and pragmatic reasons for such traditions that I do not understand, but I find them lovely and gracious in the same way that my pine tree due to be cut was gracious and lovely.
      Thanks for your comment.

  181. I love the way this article redefined survival of the fittest, the idea that survival is not of who is more evolved, but in actuality it will favor somebody who is more in tune with their surroundings. Increase awareness of the spiritual aspects of healing is something that I hope to promote in later life after advert my degree.

    • A wonderful goal, Arnulfo. We certainly need this kind of healing energy today.

    • I love your point about survival of the fittest and it made me look back on the essay. Having once been a zoology major I found there was a great divide between the professors more complete knowledge of survival of the fittest and students initial dualistic perception. I think we need to be teaching people about the falseness of the current widespread perception of survival of the fittest (those taught to me and many other science students as true fact in high school).

  182. I can really understand why those women were compelled to hug your tree. Nature has such a power that one does not necessarily have to be spiritual to feel it. When my baby cries or my kids get quirky all they need to do is step outside and they instantly feel better. I’m the same way. I think that you’re tree story is one to always share with people because it is a happy and feel good story.
    Two things that I found quite interesting in your article were that modern ecologists are just now learning what Cultees people have known for ages. Just because his people didn’t use scientific equiptment and terminology doesn’t mean they didn’t know what they were talking about- obviously. The second is the defining of the term “fittest”. I think when its looked at as how we fit in with the natural system scientists would not conquer with the definition but I know that I do. I find it a great way to acknowledge the cooperation and unity between nature and humans.

    • Thanks for sharing your insights here, Ely. I like your observation that we may well “know” things with or without scientific proof.
      I have also experienced the fact that many children, especially very young ones, instantly calm down when they go outside.
      And if we do have to be spiritual to feel what these women felt about the tree, it is not a spirituality that has anything to do with dogma– only with openness to the world of life.

  183. I really loved this tree story. In my life there are a couple of trees that mean a lot to me and who I am. I really like that you talked about the Chehalis man who said that “his elders taught him that it was these multiple eyes of natural life that determine our longevity, as persons and as a people”. I think that trees are amazing connections people can have with the universe because they show us, literally through their rings, about how we effect the world and how the world has effected us. I think we will know that humans have truly messed up when we have to trees to hug or sleep under because then we will have lost our past and taken away one of our most important and clear connections with the home we are part of.

    • I’m glad you liked this story, Caroline. I liked it that it happened in my front yard!
      But I guess I don’t understand why sleeping under a tree would mean that we “have truly messed up”. It seems like this might mean a re-connection with the natural world rather than a loss of our past.

    • I think you make some really touching points here, and it just reminds me of how much we should appreciate tree’s and all they create for us. I think reading this article everyone thinks of certain trees in their life that meant something to them, like these trees were friend in our past that stayed with us. It seems silly to say, but from an indigenous perspective, maybe it’s not that odd to think of a tree as a friend?

      • Seems to me that so many think of a special tree as a “friend” in all cultures that if it is silly, it is a silly part of our humanity that is shared worldwide. I can’s think of a better metaphor for what trees do for us than friendship–nor a better metaphor to describe the character of a distinctive companion and teacher that a special tree can be.

  184. I loved this story. There is a connection between us and nature, but it only thrives if we allow it to. My dad planted a small maple tree in the front yard of the house my parents bought. Twenty seven years later it was tall, big and beautiful. It always brought back amazing memories of playing in the leaves in the fall and attempting to climb it in the summer. Most importantly it reminds me of my dad who passed away in 2001. To anyone this tree was just a tree – but to me it was full of memories of my childhood. When we moved my best friend took a branch, bark and leaves before it was cut down. They are framed and in my living room, a constant reminder of how important that tree was to me. Although some people look at it and ask why I have a brown leaf framed in my living room, it symbolizes life to me. That tree was tall, strong, mature, and naked at times but this shows vulnerability, all qualities found in humans.

    • What a lovely gift your dad gave you, Ellie. Thanks for sharing this story and the way that special tree reflects our humanity–or perhaps even, what we more we might learn about our humanity.

    • Ellie, I also thank you for sharing this story. Your reminder of the branch may not be something that everyone understands, but what matters is that you share this connection between you, your father and nature. When my Grandma died, my family and I planted a tree in our front yard as a reminder of the great woman she was. By doing so, I like to think that we helped provide new life by planting this special tree.

      • Thanks for sharing your family own story here, Samantha. Providing new life is a wonderful motive that a tree like this can help you achieve. And thanks for sharing your support of Ellie as well.

    • I had similar trees in my own yard at the house I grew up in. Sadly we don’t live there anymore, but I still remember the yard with fondness. A few assignments ago, we talked about spiritual property versus property for practical purposes only. I’m sure most of us have places and characteristics of our homes that we appreciate in a spiritual way. If we focus our energy on appreciating all of earth instead of just the areas that have special meaning to us, we would all be much better off.

  185. This web article was a breathe of fresh air. Taking time out in a busy day to stop, slow down, and just think about trees. It made me think of a tree in my home town that everyone in Wilsonville knows about, at least those that have been there long enough. Out past the Middle school there is a huge field, probably 6 or 7 acres long that eventually turns into woods deep into the distance. In the middle of this huge field is a single tree, large enough so everyone from the road can see it when they pass. Everyone knows this tree, and you will see cars parked on the side of the road, and a few highschool kids making their trek out to get a closer look at this “Solo tree”. People have pictures from this single tree, like it is a landmark that our own town created. It reminds me of the sense of community you mentioned at the beginning of the article, and how this one tree has the power to bring people together, and create something that everyone can feel a connection with.

    • Thanks for sharing the story of this “solo” tree and its impressive character– with the power to bring your community together. So I got to think about a tree as well while sitting at the computer. Thanks!

  186. Reading stories such as these it brings back memories of my childhood. In the house I spent most of my adolescent years our back yard was lined with apple trees and in the front yard stood a monstorous pine tree that stood far taller than our home. As kids we loved climbing up in the trees, pretending to be anything we wanted, pretending to be anywhere we wanted. We would spend our sunny days laying under the trees and being grateful for the cool shade they provided, and I must say I miss having a yard such as this. It’s so easy to forget the amazing benefits that elements of our nature supply us with, but it really should not be the case. Who doesn’t enjoy laying in the shade on a hot summer day, with an iced beverage, and a good book?

    • Thanks for sharing this story–and the images of spending time in the company of what some indigenous elders refer to as the “one-leggeds”, Chamae.

    • Your story reminds me of the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. The difference is that in the description of your memories, there is a sense of appreciation for the trees in your yard. In “The Giving Tree,” the boy in the story lacks appreciation for nature, much like many people in society today.

    • This story is taking me back to my own childhood, where being outside was all I needed, I would stay out until the sun went down and I was burned and mosquito bitten!

  187. While stopped at a stop sign light in portland today, I noticed several trees next to the sidewalk. They looked as if they were planted decades ago, and their roots have grown so much that the sidewalk is now protruding from their roots pushing up on it. I smiled because it appeared to be a joint effort of the trees to break from the concrete that was imprisoning them and compromising their growth. It was a reminder that they are living and breathing and growing, just like us. Call me a ‘tree hugger’ but I believe they are equal to us and deserve to be protected

    • You don’t have to hug a tree to keep in mind that trees “are living and breathing and growing, just like us.” But hey, what not?

    • I know what you mean about seeing that plants break free. I see grass growing in between the cracks of the cement and think that they are really determined! It also makes me laugh.

  188. The stories described in this essay inspire me to sit back an appreciate the world around me. Too often people become so passionate and eager to make the earth a better place and to correct the wrongdoings of the human species on this planet, that we forget the reason we love earth so much. The two women described at the beginning of the article show their appreciation in a very simple, yet bold, way. When first reading this, my thoughts were along the lines of “why are those crazy people hugging a tree?” After giving it more thought, a hug seems to be a very appropriate way to say “thank you” and to recognize that the earth is alive and needs nourishment, too.

  189. Perhaps there is a bigger link to modern day society’s health problems and the lack of nature/kinship to nature that we experience. I am sure glad I don’t live in a big city, I feel empty when I can’t go outside and hear birds and see deer and beautiful greenery.

  190. This story was very interesting, while I find it hard to associate healing properties with the presence of trees, I also can understand how the connection with nature associated with “tree huggers” could lead to a healthier lifestyle. I would be very curious as to the scientific connection between trees outside patients windows and their quick healing. Perhaps it has something to do with happiness and chemicals in the brain?

    • Thoughtful personal response, Caleb. There is more and more data on this health effect of seeing green from hospital rooms: perhaps we will figure out why. Or perhaps it is as simple as the fact that our bodies have grown up in concert with a natural world–and placement in that world motivates them to tune and heal themselves.

  191. This was a sweet little story. It said to me that even if we are confined to the city, we still need those things which a tree can provide. Through nature we can find healing- that is something special.

    A few years ago in Hampton, Virginia a cherished city tree was cut down without care for the nesting green heron in the tree. Your story made me think of how that particular community came together at their loss of the city tree, which had been removed because the roots were cracking the sidewalk. I remember being amazed that the city didn’t choose to move the sidewalk- why cut down the tree? i looked for the article to put a link on this site, but it must have been removed from the daily press because I was unable to find it.

    • Interesting word “confined” to the city, Raquel. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we looked at the place we were– wherever that is, as a gift and opportunity to be in community with life– human and more than human. Some of our cities, of course, leave more room than do others for this. And sometimes the failure of their economics leaves an empty space in which such things can be recouped. In Detroit, the inner city where auto factories once where is being reclaimed as community gardens.
      The story you elude to shows us the backwardness of our values: from my perspective, the venerable tree is worth much more than the cracked sidewalk: how about getting creative and making a permeable surface there– with a step or ramp over the roots if necessary?

  192. This story brought me to tears. When my grandfather was dying of cancer we could often find him out on nature walks. He said it calmed him down and eased his stress, and made him not scared to go. It is unfortunate that it often takes something devastating to make us stop and appreciate what has always been around us. Our lives are so busy that we often don’t take the time to just be grateful that we are alive. We know that life is beautiful and short, so we try to cram as much in as possible. Though we might just be happier doing less at taking more nature walks while we still can.

    • That is very sad. My grandmother had cancer too and she was the same way in the end. She really did not want to be around people all the time because all they would do is talk about her cancer so she would go outside and spend hours in her garden caring for her plants.

      • Thanks for sharing this, Jake.
        I am sorry you lost your grandmother.
        It seems like she knew how to take care of herself–and left a legacy for you in her presence–and her spirit is still by you.

    • Indeed, Amanda. The perception of the preciousness of our lives and world is a legacy your grandfather left with you! Thanks for passing this on.

  193. The paragraph where you mention that the tree, despite being surrounded by concrete, thrives is a great, and humbling reminder of how illusory our perception of the permanence of the the man made world is. It reminds me of pictures of Pripyat in the Ukraine, near Chernobyl, where, despite being completely uninhabitable for human life, nature is slowly reclaiming the city. Trees and other vegetation grow up from cracks in cement and tile, their spreading roots slowly helping to break down manmade structures. I think the happiness or awe that people feel for that tree is almost like a subconscious recognizing of that permanence of the natural world, within a manmade world that would be gone in the geological blink of an eye without humans to perpetuate it.

    • Thoughtful point, John– Alan Weisman’s book, The World without Us, has become popular, I think, for precisely this reason– some of us find solace in the fact of the persistence of life, no matter what human machinations we design.

  194. This is an amazing story that really opens your eyes about the power of nature. I know the power of nature very much because it is one of the only things that can ease my stress and clear my mind. Sometimes I get caught up in my own little world and then when I take the time to step back and open my eyes I see what a massive world I live in and how small I am in that world. A lot of people I know deal with stress the same way by looking at nature and easing their mind.

    • Lovely response, Jake, thanks for the reminder not only of the ways we might take comfort from the natural world but of the ways in which our lives are precious.

  195. Good article, one that I can definetly relate to. The first part of the article references people who use the tree as a way to heal, a sort of outlet from negative things. When I was younger I had a similar tree, one that I could always depend on. When things weren’t going well, which was quite often, I would climb up it and think. It was a place where I could vent for a few hours and think. This definetly proves that nature is not only needed for physical dependence, such as oxygen and food, but also for emotional reasons.

    • Thanks for sharing your own refuge tree with us, Troy. I sometimes wonder what it is like for children who must grow up without such healing refuges in nature to help them deal with their own growing pains.

    • I think what is so pertinent in this essay is that it reveals the fact that we all have a natural escape. Your story and my experiences are testimonies to that fact. It is among the natural world that the stress of our modern world falls away from contemplation in my opinion. For instance, everything gets a little quieter when I sit under a big shady tree, and I think nature makes us feel at peace because it is our source of origination. We need nature for so many purposes other than just purely resources, and I think we have a connection to nature that is unexplainable because it runs so deep – it can heal, inspire, and nourish.

      • Hello Amber, I am wondering if the point is whether we all have a natural escape — or whether we all need one. There are too many places that have no green spaces for their residents– those same places that have the most toxic industries– which happen to be predominantly the neighborhoods of the poor and people of color. It is essential not to deprive any of our human community of this gift that can “heal, inspire, and nourish”, as you say.

        • Professor Holden,
          I completely agree with what you say here, especially after taking the course WS 280: Global Women in which we watched a documentary about the vary phenomena that you are describing. What I guess I was trying to get at here was the idea that when we find ourselves in nature even if we don’t have a particular place all the time, the result seems to be the same: one of healing, inspiration, nourishment, and above all happiness.

        • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Amber. It would be great to know what that documentary was.

        • A favorite quote of mine sprang to mind as I read this thread. I think it was Edward Abbey who wrote that we need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. I wonder if the idea of wilderness holds the same power for children growing up without access to healing refuges in nature. Perhaps it does not and if that is the case, our wilderness areas will be at greater risk as those children grow up and vote.

        • Thoughtful point, Amy. That is why I am heartened by the current movement (which I hope grows) to bring children back in contact with the natural world– to cure what at least one author has called “nature deficit disorder”–I think our children suffer greatly when they lack the sense of nature as refuge– there for us, as you point out, whether or not we actually set foot in it.

  196. This post made my day as I am constantly looking at the trees in my neighborhood, and have developed a few of my favorites as well. I love that the two women felt the healing in that particular place and wonder how many more people do. In San Francisco there is an organization called Friends of the Urban Forest that will plant city sanctioned trees in neighborhood by request. Additionally, you can purchase small potted trees at Christmas time and use them through the holidays, returning them to the stock of trees to be planted in the city. I wonder how many other places have something similar? It’s one of my most favorite ideas.

    • The city of Eugene actually has an urban forestry department, Lindzy- that cares for, although they don’t plant trees per se. However, the Eugene Tree Foundation has planted 2500 trees in the Eugene area–and I understand that the Friends of Trees in Portland (a much larger and a bit older organization has planted 415,000 trees and native plants in their area.

  197. This is a nice essay that makes me reflect on what nature has taught me. In particular, when I moved from my childhood home to a new city with my family six years ago, taking my newly grafted Liberty apple tree with me as a reminder of home. At the time it was just a little potted twig at my feet in the car. I remember being grateful for having this small comfort as I began my new and intimidating journey.

    We planted the tree in the corner of our backyard, but I worried that it would die — the climate in our new area of residence was drier and harsher than where I grew up in the valley. But as the years went by, that little tree weathered arid summers and feet of snowfall in the winters. Meanwhile, I was growing and adapting, too. I would come to call the new city my home, make friends, and fall in love — “branching out” just like my apple tree, but never forgetting my roots.

    Now I have moved away and started to build a life of my own, but whenever I visit, I look at that tree and feel inspired. As it has become a resilient thing, so have I. Today it is budding and producing apples for the first time. I can’t wait to take the first bite when they turn ripe. I’m sure they will taste oh so sweet.

    • Thank you for this very touching personal story about your Liberty apple tree, Marissa. Liberty apples are one of my favorite in the taste category. I hear they are also one of the most resistance to certain apple diseases (which is why some organic growers choose them). What a delight to have such a story to parallel your own.

    • That is a great story, Marissa. What a great way of relating your life to the tree you carried with you to your new home. I think it is nice that such things exist to remind us of home and where we come from. I too enjoy returning home and spending time in my parents garden, this is what reminds me of home and childhood. Time spent outside in the yard under a warm summer sun. Thanks for your story.

    • Thank you for sharing your story about “your tree.” It was very heart warming. Growing with your tree obviously meant a lot to you. We all weather storms in our lives. If we all had our own “tree” to grow with, then maybe the storms of life would be a little easier to weather.

  198. I appreciated this article because I think there is a lot of healing that comes from the natural world, in both plants and animals. I have heard stories where dogs and other animals were brought into hospitals and the patients recovery was quickened by these companions. I do not know where the origin of bringing flowers to those who are in the hospital originated, but I’d like to think that the greenery improves the healing process. We often consider how we nurture nature such as through a garden, but is it us nurturing the garden, or the garden nurturing us? I think it is both.

  199. This story brought me to tears. When my grandfather was dying of cancer we could often find him out on nature walks. He said it calmed him down and eased his stress, and made him not scared to go. It is unfortunate that it often takes something devastating to make us stop and appreciate what has always been around us. Our lives are so busy that we often don’t take the time to just be grateful that we are alive. We know that life is beautiful and short, so we try to cram as much in as possible. Though we might just be happier doing less at taking more nature walks while we still can.

    • Lovely point, Amanda. Thanks for sharing this touching portrait of your grandfather who obviously lives on in you. I love your reminder that life is beautiful and short.

    • Amanda, this a a sad realtion to the article but a good one also. I am sorry for your loss, but I am very happy for your grandpa that he could find peace somewhere among the world while batteling cancer. You are very right, we do want to do everything we can while we can but it is so nice to just enjoy a good walk or a good sunsent as often as possible.

  200. I loved this story. Very interesting about the research that looking out on a tree from a hospital window has helped people heal faster than those without that view. Nature is full of so many healing properties. When I am going through rough times in my life a turn to mother nature for help. I have always found such serenity in the mountains. The sound of the wild blowing through the trees awakens all of my senses and helps my cope with the things bothering me.

    • I don’t remember which hospital it is, but one of the hospitals in Portland was built with each of the ICU rooms against a large atrium court space.
      Have you read the poem by Wendell Berry about laying down with nature when the world is too much to handle? I think you’d appreciate it, especially after reading this.

  201. Thank you for sharing this story about your tree. I read it just before I went to pick up my son from school. In his school yard stands a beautiful old oak (not native, but still gorgeous) that the children love to play under and jump on, but as I watched the children play running around the school yard, I realized that though we certainly love our trees, we really take them for granted. I volunteer at his school as an after-school teacher and I pretty much can do whatever project I want with the children. I think come spring I’ll plan to get the kids more engaged with the trees as trees, not just as things to jump on. Maybe we’ll do some tree hugging.
    I share this story with caution because I don’t want to sound irreverent towards Native Americans, but when I read your quote from Henry Cultee about the eyes of the world watching you, it reminded me of trips to the forest with my family as a child. As we approached the site where we intended to stay for the day or camp, my dad would warn us about the “Kick-a-Palouse Indians” who were hiding high in the tree tops watching us. They were called “Kick-a-Palouse,” said my dad, because whenever anybody did anything against nature, like littering, the Indians would sneak up behind them and kick them in their “palouse.” I know I believed this tale when I was little because I remember searching the tree tops and being very careful not to do anything that might warrant being kicked in my backside. While my dad told us there fabled people in the trees, I can appreciate through this the concept that nature is watching us.

    • Interesting that native presence (perhaps a subconscious projection of our own ancient rules for interacting with the natural world) would be the monitors here. On the one hand, it is good to feel there are such overseers of our actions. On the other hand, I know from many native peoples that they would be viewed and interacted with as real human beings rather than myths- as you intuited in your hesitation about disrespect here. But who is to say that spirits of those gone to the other side of all cultures are not overseeing our present actions, whether we feel their actual presence or pass on stories that make their presence a principle of our actions.
      Thanks for sharing this, Neyssa.

  202. This piece made me smile, because it reminded me of a hiking trip we took a while back. I am the type of person who prefers to respect cultivated trails, especially in high-traffic areas, because of the damage that too many people tromping over slopes can do to the stability of the soil. Somehow, while we were coming down the mountain (and I was watching the world through my view finder), we wandered off the trail and had to climb down a bit of a slope. I used the trunks of some small pines to help me keep my footing, noticing as I did so that the bark I was touching was smoothed from myriad other hikers using the trees for support. It made me wonder how long those trees had been assisting hikers who had strayed.

    While I felt guilty for being off of the trail, I was also grateful that the trees were there to prevent me from tumbling down the slope. I realized a moment later that I was being asked to repeat myself. It took me a minute to understand why I was being asked, and then I laughed and explained that I was just thanking the tree for letting me lean on it and steady myself. That earned me more than one odd look, but I receive plenty of those anyway, as I talk to plants and animals alike. The thought of the women hugging the maple tree and acknowledging the natural support of their healing made me happy, and I am glad that the story was shared here.

    • I am glad this story made you happy, Adreinne. Seems these women were not at all concerned about the looks others might give them! Thanks for sharing your own story about the tree helpers.

    • I too have found myself in this situation of using the nearby plant life as hand grip in order to descend a mountain side. I am happy to know that I am not the only one who says thank you to the plants for their help.

  203. I really love the message in the essay. It shows that there is still reverence for plants in modern society. Just like the indigenous people of India that clung to the tree about to be chopped down for life, the people in this essay also clung toward the tree on the street for their life. They believed in its sacred healing power. Although this was a shorter essay, I think it gets to an important point. Many things can hold sacred powers, especially plants, if we give them reverence. We must be open and willing to see the true power that things around us hold. My mom told me something interesting just yesterday. She is a recent breast cancer survivor and we were talking about garden and planting her winter tulip bulbs. There is a huge rose bush in our yard that was a gift from a grandmother. It was uprooted and moved to our new house many years ago. The rose bush has always been the main adored feature in her yard and has to be as old as I am. Her doctor was discussing life after treatment with her and mentioned that she should get rid of or destroy her prideful rose bush. He informed here that a simple prick from one of the thorns armed with a certain bacteria could shut down her entire lymphatic system. I thought this was the most bizarre thing when she first told me, but after this lesson I have a better understanding of the power of plants, not to mention a far greater respect for rose bushes.

    • Hi Justine, congratulations to your mother on being a breast cancer survivor. I have never heard of such a thing about roses, but I hope your mother does a bit more investigating before she digs up something that has brought her and her family such joy. And even if this is true, why not let others do the harvesting and caring for this plant? ANY wound can be dangerous in the context of chemotherapy which shuts down the immune system as part of its function. In this case, she shouldn’t be slicing up anything in the kitchen either without serious caution.
      I did, however, find out there is a fungus in the soil that can be transmitted by rose thorns (and also things like grass cuts and splinters and cats with the disease), which might be serious to someone with an artificially depressed immune system.

    • I recently bought my grandparents house because of the connection I felt to the property I was raised on. My grandmother had planted multiple plants that come back every year. I look to those particular plants as being a connection to my family. They have lived outside of that house for at least 30 years and I plan to replant them if they are ever in danger of being destroyed. I would have trouble getting rid of a rose bush that I felt that connected to, I would just have a healthy respect for the dangers.

  204. It have heard finding that stated that people who have plants an animals and talk to them live longer healthier lives than those who do not. Also plants who are sung to and talked to are greener and healthier than those who are not. So it is not surprising that people would find comfort embracing a tree like a long known relative.

    • Some interesting ideas mentioned, and I certainly can not deny that I talk to my cats as if they can reply. If humans interacting with plants truly helps both the humans and plants to thrive longer, then I will make a true effort to interact with some plant every day.

    • Good point Nathan,

      It’s interesting about the plants that grow better by being sung to. Also it is a soothing stress reliever to talk to animals and plants, and maybe the plants and animals feel that emotion in like.

  205. The stories of how this one tree impacted and actually interacted with all sorts of people is quite astounding. I really must agree that the concept of survival of fittest must be erased. Humans shouldn’t be endangering any other species, whether animal or plant, to ensure their own survival. That is not how the earth was meant to operate and I really don’t think it will successfully operate much longer if people don’t change attitudes. I think interacting with other species is what will help us all to thrive longer. Interdependence is the key, not independence!

    • Interdependence, as you note, is the key to healthy and sustainable interactions with other lives. I could not agree more.

    • I’ve never really liked the phrase “survival of the fittest”, to me it sounds a little insecure. I agree if we can work in unison with plants we will thrive together.

  206. How awesome that you share your bounty with those in your community. I think this essay describes the inherit value of the natural world in the every-day. The difference a tree makes.

  207. Trees give us so much. They can be used as instructional instruments, learning opportunities, and create community. They also give us shade, beauty, and not to mention the whole creating-the-oxygen-we-need-to-survive detail. Trees also act as windbreaks and sound barriers. I know this all too well because I used to live fairly close to I-5 and after strategically planting a few trees along my fence the highway sounded like a distant waterfall.

    Trees can become gentle giants and outlast us all. Oh the things they’ve seen, silent sentinels, witnesses to rolling change. They live within natural systems in a way we can hardly fathom. They provide so much for us, but what do we do for them? Alas, this is another example of interdependence at work and its immense importance. Trees, it would seem, are “fitter” than we are because they don’t need us whereas we need them. In this sense “fittest” is illogical. We should be more focused with how to “fit within”.

    • Great list of what trees do for us, Trent–and given such gifts from the generous natural world (trees that sustain themselves even as they give us so much), we can do no less than continue the generosity. Thanks for your comment.

  208. I believe that the tree are seen by the people as a spiritual worldview of nature. Trees are a majestic species that can stand the test of time and out live most plant species, they are like indicators of instance of time that gives use shelter by giving us shade in warm weathers and fruits.

  209. Being vulnerable is the key to healing, it’s what makes you feel good, what you find beautiful. Some see beauty in a tree, others see beauty in a smile. While others might heal from laughter or love shared between one another. Most times when I’m trying to stay balanced in my life and interact with people, I sometimes hear by word of mouth how much people appreciate my presence. So I guess medicine can be mutual.

  210. Very nice story Dr. Holden,

    I fully agree with the idea of fitting into nature. The power that you noticed between random strangers and a beautiful tree should be seen so much more! It is like two very different worlds. One of the old and beautiful and one of the new, wide eyed eager to learn. Thanks for the great story!

  211. This reminds me of the Sun Dance I have been to several times. It is a inter-tribal dance where in the beginning we would go into the forest and pick a tree to cut down. The tree would be cut by the dancers and as it fell all the spectators would guide the tree down not letting it hit the ground, otherwise another tree would have to be cut. Then we would carry the tree back to camp and erect it in the center of the dancing circle in a hole where the tree from last year stood. The dancers would then dance around the tree and give flesh offerings for four days in celebration of the sun and life that the tree gave for the dance. It is a very humbling experience that everyone should be apart of.

    • I have not been to a Sundance, but I know from many who have that it is a powerful religious experience– also one which is reserved for those willing to honor the spiritual nature of this event and usually also have native heritage.

    • This idea of dancing and giving offering to a tree that has been cut is a sign of respect these indigenous people had for nature. The thing that doesn’t really surprise me but what I am curious as to experience for myself is the “spiritual” part of this dance that Dr. Holden mentions in her post. I think as you said it would be humbling, as well as relaxing!

  212. This is a wonderfully touching story. I was interested to learn that people with a view of a tree from their hospital room heal more quickly than people who do not. I love the idea that nature heals us. Each woman felt better after touching the tree either because it just made her feel like healing or getting the perfect stretch for her shoulder. This is a fine example of human’s connection with nature even if we are not always aware of it.

    From this story I am reminded of another part of nature that can be healing, dogs. In December my dad had a heart attack and emergency heart surgery. My younger brother and my dad are the best of pals and my brother took the surgery really hard. While in the waiting in the hospital for the hours of surgery to end a therapy dog came in the room. He sat next to my brother and laid his head in his lap for a long while. My brother was so comforted by having the dog there. I was so grateful that the therapy dog could do the comforting I just wasn’t sure how to do. This connection with nature really was the best type of healing in a time of need.

    • Thanks for this touching additional example of what the natural creatures who share our world can do for us. My best wishes for your father’s health.
      And isn’t your story a sign of our interdependence– of the healing of father and son and human and non-human animal woven together in the web of life?

      • I think my story is certainly a sign of our interdependence with nature. I find that for me, and some people I know there is nothing more comforting than nature. Often times when I am upset, I take a walk. I am always struck by the beauty and wonder of the things going on around me. The seasons change, flowers bloom and leaves fall. I feel comforted by these cycles and the knowing that like the natural world I will continue to persevere and survive. And thanks for your well wishes!

        • You are certainly welcome, Alicia. It is a gift for both ourselves and the natural world in which we are embedded to live and share such healing stories.

        • Alicia,
          What a great story about the dog. How true it is that animals or nature can make us feel better and heal faster when we are down. I also agree with you about getting out in nature and feeling better. If I’m ever upset or having a bad day I like to go for a run in a local park not far from where I live. The peacefulness of being out there calms me. It is something about reminding me that I am part of nature. I also do a lot of hiking and backcountry skiing, after a long day of being in the outdoors my spirits are lifted for days afterwards. Being connected and aware of our surrounds seems to be something that we have gotten away from. I hope your dad is feeling better!

  213. What a lovely experience you encountered in having not one, but two, women hug the same tree in your yard. What is even more remarkable is that you were aware enough to take notice and realize that they were doing this not because they were “weird” but because they felt compelled by the beauty of nature to do so. I have hugged trees many times, but I know people who would think that was absolutely crazy. It makes complete sense to me, I believe that trees are one of the most scared gifts that we have been given. They are of the eyes of mother nature. They last, often, centuries and are able to view the changing of people, ideals, philosophies, and cultures. But, they do not interrupt, they just watch and breathe their life energy (literally, through release of carbon dioxide) aiding us in our journey. Trees represent strength, wisdom, and life.

    • It was a gift of an experience indeed, Kelly. Thanks for reminding me of this.
      And I am just in the process of reviewing a book by a botanist on the “personhood of trees”– watch for a copy of the review it to appear here in the next two weeks or so!

    • I don’t believe we can make a physical connection with such a species. How about a tree house or a swing in the tree? The main connection we make is spiritually. Sometimes hugging the tree gives these people more of a sense that they are together for that time. I believe they are treated in this way because they are so tall and people view them as having strength and wisdom like you said. Sometimes in nature there are many unknown energy forces that people can connect with.

      • There is a rather amazing book that addresses the issue of “plants as persons” from a botanists point of view that would say we can make such a physical contact with trees because our neural systems are so similar to them…

    • I don’t think I have ever hugged a tree in my life, but may be when I was a child. I don’t mind people that do. In fact, I find it to be special. I like the idea of people being connected with nature in such a way. What are the eyes of mother nature? Is that even real? I tend to just believe that nature is a gift from God. I do believe that tree are amazing though.

      • Thanks for your response, Brianna– I think you might like the quote from Nina Baumgartner on nature’s praise of God (on the left hand column on the front page of this website).

  214. This essay reminded me a lot of myself. Wherever I live, I’ve felt better with a tree within view from a window. When I travel in a city, I am uplifted by the sight of trees lining the sidewalks. If I were ever in the hospital, I think that my healing would go faster with the view of a tree out my window. It’s something relaxing to look at, and the wind moving through the leaves makes a calming noise. Not to mention all the wildlife that runs/flies in the tree branches. When I think of survival of the fittest, it is now going to be with the meaning of fitting in with the environment.

    I’ve never really been comfortable or relaxed within a city environment, and I think it’s because I feel less of a connection with the natural world. Many cities are now making a point of planting trees and other plants throughout. I know jobs are opening up in managing trees in urban settings.

  215. What a great story! I agree that there is something that draws us to nature and that feeling is indescribable. I think part of that feeling is because we have no way of creating something so pure and natural, it happens all on its own. We understand true beauty when looking at a sunset, or watching ocean waves or seeing a bald eagle’s nest. These instances of awe are met with shear enjoyment and no matter how many times you “see” nature happen, each time is different.This definitely makes me want to go hiking and I can’t wait for a taste of summer in Oregon!

  216. I remember as a kid, I lived on a street that was quite typical. I had neighbors, a large backyard and a big house. From the roof of my house I could see a very big tree. I would walk to this tree climb it and stay there for hours. For some reason being in the tree was very calming, and relaxing. Sometimes I imagined what it would like to live in one. These stories as a kid make me wonder about the connections mentioned in this essay between the link between the tree and someones accelerated healing process. For the most part, I do question the validity somewhat of this possibility. I know that this wouldn’t be the case if it was more natural for me to be set with nature.

    Instead of as I am currently, somewhat apart from it. I have always respected animals more than most people around me, even my family. I have always have questioned someones comment when they disregard animals as significantly less than humans. I do not believe that they are, but most people I have encountered do. Anyway, because of this, I was taught that it is not “natural” to think this way about animals (which translates into the natural world as well). I think it what my problem is with having a view of trees help someones healing process, but upon reading this article it has opened my eyes to the possibilities of a more natural cure to man-made diseases.

  217. I think trees can help people in a spiritual way. We understand that they offer us oxygen and are a big part of our lives in a lot of ways. I think that people can bask in its beauty. I myself love looking at the trees in the summer because of the bright colors and the way they move in the wind. Trees are the largest part of our environment and also is home for inner city wildlife. There is a reason they are planted in every neighborhood. They live longer then the lifetime of humans and people can believe that it is living and has a history just like the rest of us.

    • It’s true what you say about trees. I think God meant them to be like that- spiritual healers. Not only are they beautiful and they offer shade or shelter from the weather, but they also are beautiful to look at, and full of life (though immobile) because of every kind of life that makes hoes inside of them.

      • I am enjoying the lovely images of what trees do for us here. Thanks for adding to these.
        And I might just add that Matthew Hall’s work (see the essay just before this on Plants as People) makes the points that plants are not immobile. They move toward nutrients and sun and according to a number of other things they sense in the air and soil– if not exactly in the same way we animals do.

  218. I have heard about tress out side windows of those in the hospital, but i can honestly say i have never seen any actually hug a tree. I lived in Dallas and in Rockwall which is a suburb of Dallas and it is true that city life is not relaxing and i believe it adds stress. When i get out of the army and have a choice of where i live i will deferentially choose a suburban area near a lake

  219. I like this article, because it reminds me of my mother. She comes from a small town in Oregon. She loves being in the wet, cold, and out in the forest. When she travels to big cities she gets excited to see trees. When my mom went to the hospital to see her parents die in the hospital one of the things she did to help her cope with the situation is to look at trees. She would even open the curtain hanging above the window, so her parents (my grandparents) view the pretty view outdoors. My mom loves taking long walks outside and loves the smell of fresh trees. She feels relaxed walking and jogging outside. She loves when it gets stormy outside. She loves the loud noises and the excitement in life of nature. She loves to hear the sound of birds chirping and bees buzzing. Genetically and what has been taught through evolution is the mentality of the survival of the fittest. However, the goal is to have more ethics than that. We must learn to adapt to our environment and not require our environment to adapt to us.

    • Thanks for sharing these lovely images of your mother’s relationship with the natural world, Brianna. The only thing I could not imagine as I read along was the “loud noises..in life of nature”– I always thought of nature as particular quiet and calming. And cities absent a naturescape as annoyingly loud.

  220. It’s interesting that both of these women stopped to hug the tree after surgery. After having an unnatural action done to their bodies their body is doing what it naturally does, it heals. During this natural process of healing I could see why you would want to surround yourself with nature and literally embrace it. All of the different people that are drawn to this tree in the city just goes to show how we are all naturally drawn to nature.
    Again survival of the fittest does not separate us from the natural world, it is those that interpret it wrong that do. Our survival may not last because we choose not to fit into nature, but stand above it. Those that can find a give and take relationship with the world and see themselves as having a mutual respect with nature will be the ones that do survive.

  221. If a tree falls in the forest and know one is around, does it make a noise? Yes it does. Trees have life and full of it, just think about the colors they produce in the fall. I love the fall just for all the trees coming to life, really showing their true colors. Some colors are so bright, they amaze me as I could just stare for hours. No wonder both women in the story felt the need to hug the tree. Nature brings us closer to an inner peace, a healing energy. With the city being such a hardscape environment, trees give cities a sense of greenery, making us feel like we can breath again.

    • Excellent point, Debbie. I have been thinking recently about the worldview that can even as the question of the tree falling– as if there is a potential that all the sounds in the world do not exist if humans do not hear them!

  222. (new)

    I agree that we need to re-evaluate our ideology of survival of the fittest. I actually do not like the term survival of the fittest because I think it has gotten twisted by our modern society.
    I like how you turned that around to say to look at it on how we fit into the natural world. This essay also made me think back on being in the Giant Sequoias in Northern California. It is so beautiful and peaceful there you can just feel the life when you stand in those groves.

    • Thanks for your response, Brandie. It seems like that grove gives us an entirely different sense of the “fittest” in the natural world (and what a gift it is to us!)

  223. This was an emotional read for me. My neice has been fighting Cancer for three years and I wish with every ounce of energy in my body that I could send her to a tree and it offer her a healing power. I like many parents will be that shelter for my children and for that matter any child in my life.

    I deeply believe in the healing powers of this earth; but convincing others of them when horrible diseases’ like Cancer plague their childrens bodies is a difficult task. One day at a time, I guess.

    • Thank you for your very touching response here, Danielle. I love your image of sheltering your children in this way! I am so sorry that your niece is suffering in this way. We need to struggle together for environmental choice that do not cause a single cancer death.

  224. I firmly believe healing is in the hands of nature; however, I struggle, like most people to live 100% with the earth. I have started a small group, that consists of women who want to live more natural lives, feeding their children chemical free foods. Our first lesson is to learn what “chemical free” really means. Organic these days is a mystery to me.

    Daisy, my niece, is too young to understand what she puts in her body may heal her or hurt her. I am trying to get her mother to understand this way, but for her money is a barrier to a natural life. It’s frustrating.

  225. Great! Thank you. I am up for the challenge.

  226. This essay really hit home for me. This past week I spent out in the countryside near Yucca Valley, CA, with an outdoor adventure therapy organization (First Descents). We spent the week in Joshua Tree National Park, rock climbing and enjoying nature and most importantly, healing. We were all young adults who had had cancer. One of the major topics of the week was the healing power of nature and the outdoors. There were nights when we would sit around outside and just look at the stars; stars we couldn’t really see from our homes in the city. We talked about how it invigorates our souls and spirits to be outside, away from city life and concrete, brick and steel and be amongst trees, plants and sky. These experiences and nature itself has helped heal my wounds and in fact, has made sound a profound impact on my healing that I clearly see the interdependence. Nature has given me life again, and I in turn am seeking to pursue a career where I can preserve nature and the environment for generations to come but also to help other people understand this healing power of nature and the joy and strength it can bring. It has given so much to me that for me, by doing this, I am giving back and really paying it forward.

    • Thank you for sharing this moving personal story, Jillian. it is great that you and these other young cancer survivors had an opportunity such as this.
      And isn’t is a wondrous– if perhaps obvious– thing about our world that there are such healing connections between our physical bodies and the natural world in which we became human?
      It is a priceless thing you have to offer our shared world in your career with your experience and commitment.

  227. Oh wow, what a good story, thanks. Were the two separate incidents of those tree-hugging women unrelated and just chance? It certainly seems like this tree and your yard have created a place out of what could have easily been just an urban area. The people appreciating it there are picking up on that. This is precisely what I love about little neighborhood gardens in densely populated cities. They transform what might have been a vacant lot into a communal place that gives respite from a hectic world and helps us maintain a connection to the earth despite the surrounding pavement. Doesn’t it seem like there is enough pavement in the world?

    • Thanks, Josh. I feel blessed to be to pass on the story that emerged this way in front of my house.
      And yes, to answer your question, these two tree hugging events were seemingly unconnected– just coincidental.
      Flowering springs and burgeoning gardens also give neighbors reason to relate to one another. We have enough pavement, indeed! I love the fact that there are more and more creative and bountiful gardens springing up in my own neighborhood.

  228. Thank you for this simple but powerful example of what the natural world can do for all who partake in its healing power. I think that nature, as pointed out in this essay, has the power to heal us both mentally and physically. Thus trees do more than provide shade for the weary stranger, it reconnects them to something familiar and desirable. While reading this essay I was thinking of the magnificent coastal oak trees in California where I grew up. Just observing them in their natural setting was soothing and rejuvenating .With so many diseases resulting from the miss use of our technology, I think it is time to incorporate natural processes back into our way of thinking.

    • Thanks for sharing the lovely “soothing and rejuvenating” aura of those coastal oaks, Chris.
      Great point that trees do even more than provide us with our lives (our oxygen). They also help set us back where we belong in the circle of life.

  229. The concept of survival of the fittest or the perversion of Darwin’s idea of natural selection, makes no such claim that only the strongest survive, rather it details the many ways in which niches of the natural world can be filled. Any species which tries to dominate and control all biotic and abiotic things is stepping far beyond the niche which it was destined for and eventually the laws of nature and selection will remove such a species as unfit to occupy any niche. We must be a complement to the nature which sustains us and not a contrast.

    • You have an important idea that we must be a “complement to the nature that sustains us rather than a contrast”, Paul. And certainly, we must not try to obliterate those aspects of the natural world that seem momentarily inconvenient to us?
      Thanks for reminding us about what natural selection is all about– and how we humans might do better in fitting into the life-giving system that we have inherited.

  230. The power of nature is hidden in plain sight. We often look past our landscape without lingering in the shade, smelling the flowers, or admiring the impressive displays that nature has to offer. When we realize that we are not apart but a part of nature can we fully appreciate the natural gifts and power that’s around us. If we look at the health of comunities that conquer verse those that coexist, I think we will see which are internally and externally healthy. The physical and mental health of a community is directly tied to their ecological view. To utilize this ecological power, all we need to do is slow down, just linger in the shade, maybe hug a tree, or take in and give thanks for the world around us.

    • Travis,

      I agree with you in how as humans we need to slow down and give thanks to the world around us. I think we live in a world that has little to no time to do anything and are always in such a rush that we forget to admire the nature that surrounds us and gives us life and knowledge. We must learn to coexist with our surrounding natural world rather than try to conquer it, because at the end what we conquer will die and we will be left with a world that will suffer due to the negligence of human power. Great point of views Travis.

      Moises Ascencion

    • Excellent point about the fact that the “physical and mental health of a community is directly tied to its ecological view”, Travis. I also like your point that the power of nature is “hidden in plain sight”– hidden, that is, if we don’t see it or appreciate it.
      The fact that the natural world that sustains us is such a gift to our emotional as well as physical well being ought to help guide our ethics as well.

  231. Dr. Holden,

    What a wonderful story you share with us, I remember my aunt when I was a little boy she used to talk to her roses, she would take care of this roses like no one I have ever seen every afternoon she would check the soil to make sure it was damped and removed any trash that would have accumulated. I asked her once why she talked to the roses and she replied with a simple answer, “Roses are like humans, if we treat them and love them like we love our family they will blossom and be the most beautiful roses you have ever seen.” Then I really didn’t understand why she wanted to treat roses like family but as I grew up I can see why she loved them so much. One day my uncle told me that my aunts was really sick and while at the hospital he brought her roses of all colors, until one day he brought her a small rose bush that she could keep in her room, and while in recovery for a couple of weeks she cared for that rose bush and watched it grow but at the same time she was regaining her energy and felt more alive. It turned out that the rose bush was the same that she had in her yard, she planted the rose bush soon after being released from the hospital and has had it for years and blossoms ever more beautiful now. Your story brings a good point in which humans need to relate to nature and understand its beauty in order to live a life of joy. Thank you for sharing such story and enlighten those who lack the connection between the natural world and humans. Just like you stated in your article that we must understand nature or how we “fit” with the natural world.

    • What a wonderful story about your aunt and her rosebush, Moises! The wisdom of your uncle and your aunt– and the healing power of this little rosebush– make this story a touching one!
      Thank you for sharing it with us.

  232. This story is a great example of how nature and human life are interdependent. When we embrace the beauty and serenity of nature we open ourselves up to a brighter side of life. Some doctors will tell their patients that a positive mental attitude will go along way in their recovery and it is much easier to sustain that attitude when you surround yourself with simple pleasures and avoid negative environments. People often dismiss the power of mind over body, but I think your story demonstrates how one can receive positive energy from nature, even if they do not realize it.

  233. This is a great story about how trees make us feel. Trees tend to stir wonder and awe to most people, as they should. They are a very apparent terrestrial species that we share or planet with and some of them have been around for a long time. More importantly I think they are something that people can relate to as belonging to the earth. For instance, last year I visited the oldest trees in the world in the White Mountains of California, as I was staring at a 4000+ year old tree I was thinking “the same nutrients that the earth provided to this tree to grow so long are also the nutrients it provides for me so I can live.” It’s not hard to see how trees can be medicinal from a psychological and physical stand point, I think hospitals should look into having their own arboretums.

    • And that ancient tree contributed to the breath that all of us continue to share on this earth as well, Aaron. If trees teach us nothing but that lesson of interconnection, they are powerful teachers indeed.
      Some hospitals have looked into this– all for the betterment of their patients. I am also heartened by the movement of health care professionals to do something better in terms of the mass of hazardous waste generated by hospital activities.

  234. From the familiarity of a warm apple pie, to the lumber of our homes, It is hard to imagine life without trees. The storybook tree, the giving tree, and the evergreens found in living rooms during the holidays, these organisms have a profound place in the lives of people. We hear about how a seed becomes a towering trunk with a lush canopy that effortlessly touches the sky, and we find a way to relate. Trees inspire us, and also protect us from wind, rain, and the heat of a summer day. They help us feel at home. While we recognize these values, trees are not provided the reverence they need. We materialize them, instead of address them as family. We add to cumulative tree stress and have an incredible impact on overall forest health. We deny the trees and mountainside its right to fire, inevitably resulting in more dynamic and extreme fire situations. We deny the forest and river their natural relationship known as the river continuum concept, clearcutting and damming as we see fit. It is for these reasons that I have given names to a few of the ponderosa pines and quaking aspens outside of our cabin, calling to them the way one would talk to a pet. I feel like this is my own little way to help put my new worldview into action. As I have been saying “Good morning” to Vegas and LeeRoy everyday, I find myself seeing trees in a completely new way.

    • Of this great list of what trees do for us, I am more attracted to your statement that they help us feel at home. What better gift might there be than such a sense of belonging to the cycle of life?
      I like the way you phrase your list of what we deny to trees. Your personalization of these trees is a delightful parallel of that done by many indigenous peoples– which in turn alerted them, as you note it alerts you, to reverence these living beings that provide us with so much. Thanks for this comments.

  235. When I was a senior in high school getting ready to graduate, I had been living in Shenzhen, China with my for a year. Just two months away from graduation and leaving the country, I came down with pneumonia and mononucleosis at the same time. Apparently I had had both of them for months but didn’t know it, so I ran entire track season with the sicknesses and then got diagnosed by Chinese doctors. I had never been so sick in my life. I can relate to the women who had just come from surgery in the essay because I can remember all I wanted to do was be in natural surrounding, uninterrupted by industry and factories. But anyone who has been to a large city in China knows those types of surroundings are almost impossible to come by. As soon as I came back to the US, still fighting the sicknesses, I went to a doctor (who also diagnosed me with a parasite) and got antibiotics and blood work done. But I remember specifically thinking, though this was about four years ago, that the fresh air and trees in Oregon made me feel almost completely better in no time, even without the American doctor’s medicine.
    There’s something that is very healing about creation and nature, whether it be therapy for emotional and mental wear and tear or for physical issues.

    • Thank you for this life-affirming story, Joce. I am glad your health improved so quickly among Oregon’s trees. There is something profoundly healing indeed about “nature and creation”.

  236. My partner has a very great story that is comparable to the healing powers of your tree. She is a sculptor and set about making a sculpture that would incorporate a tree limb (that she’d found on a forest floor) into a woman’s body. As is often the case when she’s sculpting, her pieces tend to take a course of their own, and she doesn’t feel that she is making something, more that it’s making itself. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the sculpted tree-like woman to have two breasts. It only ever wanted to have one. When it was completed, she knew she had to call it “Her Determination” but, she didn’t know why.
    My partner went to an art show and begrudgingly sold her sculpture to a woman whom she felt didn’t understand the piece and how it illustrated the connection between the power of women and the power of nature.
    A year later, the woman came back to the art show and my partner immediately noticed a spiritual difference in her. And then she noticed a physical difference. The woman only had one breast. And then the story came out: the woman had bought “Her Determination” the previous year because she had to have it. She didn’t know why. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and battled the disease throughout the rest of the year ending with the loss of her breast. A loss of her breast on the same side that the sculpture was missing a breast.
    All the while the woman was battling her cancer and in the hospital, she was thinking of her sculpture at home and how if the sculpture was strongly standing in her living room, a beautiful piece of art, with only one breast, then she would also be a beautifully strong woman with only one breast.
    She went to the sculpture show the following year with the sole purpose of telling my partner thank you.
    The strength of that sculpture came from that tree. The strength of that woman came from that tree.
    Here’s a picture of it, if you’d like to see:

    • This is a powerful story, Rebecca. Certainly touching in indicating the connections between the strength of women and of the natural world– but also the strength of healing community that might emerge in concert with listening to our intuitions, which is what the best art educates us to do.
      Thanks for sharing this picture as well as this story.
      Your partner much have been gratified on many levels in terms of her work after hearing this story.

  237. I agree that there is something about the trees on the west coast that is simply healing in many ways. I don’t have a direct response to how the trees and nature have been physically healing but I definitely gain mental calmness and clarity whenever I come home to Oregon. My favorite spot to be is on my Grandmother’s back porch under the fir trees listening to the Willamette River. Often times when I become stressed with life I think about the feeling I get while in that spot. I have experienced many different types of Yoga and meditation but there is absolutely nothing that compares to just sitting and being in that spot, at that moment. I often think that because of the calm I feel in Oregon, in its vast nature, that this is the reason I have had such a difficulty adjusting to living in Texas. I feel like there is a missing piece to myself while I am in Texas that instantly returns while on the west coast. My kids and I are lucky enough to be able to go “home” to Oregon every summer and I am so greatful that my children get to experience a piece of the tranquility of nature that Oregon provides.

    • A lucky thing for you and your kids to be able to go “home”, Jessica–and a gift for your family that you HAVE a place that creates this sense of home for you. Over time, you may come to find more intimate connections with the Texas environment as well– or perhaps you will find a way to make your life back in Oregon.
      We who live here now are fortunate indeed! Thanks for reminding us of this.

  238. I really liked the idea at the end of the essay: that perhaps as people we could better learn to shelter and nurture and heal others the way the tree did.
    I think that we can learn a lot from nature, and I agree that we can probably feel that, even if we don’t know exactly why or how it works. Within each of us there seems to be this desire to be close to nature, and so we go camping and hiking, plant gardens…hug trees. My personal belief about the reasons of this desire are probably different from those of most ecofeminists, but I think the results are the same in many ways. I believe that the world was created by God, and so when we learn about nature we are learning about Him and feeling his presence. I don’t know that ecofeminists would believe that, or that they think about God in the same way that I do, but I think we would agree that when we grow closer to nature we tend to become better. We learn about how the world works, about how we work, and about order and balance, beauty and harmony.
    I think it’s good for us to have that in mind as we explore nature. As we think about it in those terms, I think we’ll be better able to see the lessons that are in nature, and the ways we can apply them to ourselves…like watching the relationship of a tree with many different people, and learning about caring and nurturing from that experience.

    • Thank you for yet another thoughtful comment, Samantha. I think many ecofeminists feel that Spirit is immanent in the natural world–and thus learning about nature does indeed put us in touch with Spirit (whether you call that Creator or God).
      I agree with you that many who feel profoundly moved by the natural world sense something larger and deeper in life than the surface of things seen by those who see nature as only a resource or collection of objects to be used however humans see fit.
      For some Christian theologians (Thomas Berry comes to mind), to be in the presence of creation is to be in the presence of the divine (of the work, that is, of the Creator).

    • I agree. I think we all have a different perspective as to whom we believe in, but I do think we generally believe in the same concept. That we should live in harmony, like you have expressed as well as when we live closer to nature, we become better people. I’m not a religious woman, but I do think that there is something that has created everything to work together interconnectively. The way each specie relies on one another for survival and comfort is simply amazing and I think we need to honor what we have.

  239. I really liked this essay because it illustrate just how much we depend on and find comfort in our natural resources. The quote, “interdependence not only enhances the quality of our lives—it ensures our survival,” really hit home to me because it shows just how much we rely on each other to strive, yet some don’t seem to understand just how much we do. It is also interesting that both individuals were either sick or hurt and therefore were finding comfort in the simple and natural things in life. It is almost as if we are down on our luck do we rely back to the simple and non-stressful things in society.

    • Thoughtful considerations, Kayla. Let us hope that our gratefulness and appreciation of our reliance on the natural world comes to our consciousness at the high points of our lives as well.
      But it is true that sometimes crises take us back to our basic selves in a profound way.

    • I like how you pointed out that not only do we depend on our natural resources for survival and the necessities of life, but they can also be a source of peace and comfort in our lives.
      I think it’s true that when we are struggling we can sometimes be more receptive to what is simple and consistent. I know that going for a walk and just seeing the trees and feeling the air can help me to relax and be better able to cope, but I also do that when I’m not struggling, because it just makes life more pleasant and enjoyable.
      I think nature is a great blessing and has a lot of power to soothe and heal, and when we open up to that I think we have a greater tendency to simplify our lives and put greater emphasis on what’s important.

      • Thanks for sharing your own experience here, Samantha. It is part of the reciprocal relationship with the natural world that it heals us and in turn this motivates us to work to heal it.

    • I agree that we are so interdependent and I love that you mentioned how we rely so much on each other to survive and yet some don’t seem to understand how much interdependent that concept is. I think our dependence on nature and ourselves is a lot deeper than animals providing products or food and trees providing oxygen for us. As apparent from these two women, it’s a much more emotional connection as well.

  240. I enjoyed reading this article. I really liked this quote: “…we must let ourselves be vulnerable to the larger than human world—give in to our impulse to lean on a tree.” I think this is so true! I think our society sees vulnerability as a bad thing, when in fact it can be good. Being vulnerable reminds us that we are not all powerful and all knowing. Sometimes there are things we don’t understand and may never understand. It kind of goes along with the idea that some of nature’s secrets shouldn’t be uncovered or extracted. Some things should be kept sacred. I also really liked the idea of human separateness as being human smallness, and letting go of it for “something larger.” If we can be inclusive we can start to see all of nature as part of us, and we can grow and become something more.

    • I appreciate your reminder about the importance of vulnerability, Maddy. Being vulnerable does indeed “remind us that we are not all powerful and all knowing”. It is not only a counter to potential human arrogance, but an occasion for the compassion regarding the vulnerability of other natural lives.
      Seeing all of nature as part of us, as you observe, is a way to enlarge our own being in the way you describe.

  241. I always find when I’m hurting the most or I have a really burning question, I have to be outside to heal or to have an answer. When I’m sad I run, walk, or sit outside and just take it in. I used to love to climb trees to get away from it all; if I was sitting in a branch above my problems I could always seem to find the answer I was looking for. I always felt that if I cried while I was outside I couldn’t be judged.
    It’s been harder for me now that I’ve moved to places with larger populations where I can’t just get away from the sounds of civilization but this story really hit home. It’s amazing that in your yard people were able to find solace and healing and I hope I’ll be able to find that too!

  242. It makes me smile with pride, when I tell people that I am from Oregon and they reply “Oregon, the tree-hugger state”. Also, this essay, paired with the time of year (February), brings up a memory that I have from when I was a little girl. I recall, during that time, my neighbors were going to cut down the most of the trees in their yard. My mother was very upset at this idea and voiced her opinions/concerns to the neighbors. Needless to say, they cut down the trees anyway. However, I am not sure what their reasoning was for wanting to cut down the trees. Perhaps they were tired of cleaning up the tree debris in their yard or thought it looked more aesthetically pleasing without so many trees. After all the trees were cut down, my mother looked at my neighbor’s yard with disgust and was saddened that they would choose to do such a thing. She then displayed some of her feelings, in a ‘neighboring’ way, by baking the neighbors some homemade Valentine’s cookies. She packed them a box of pink heart-shaped cookies on top, followed by a plethora of green tree-shaped cookies on the bottom. My mother is an Oregonian through and through.

    • Delightful response about Oregon, Leah! What a kind and generous way to respond to your neighbors that your mother had!

    • Cutting down trees is always a sad thing and relates to the idea that humans feel like the own everything and are superior over the world. I have known people who have cut down trees that were blocking their view of sunsets or that it crossed over the fence line of their property so their neighbors wanted the tree removed. Trees have been cut down for centuries. We need to learn to replant a tree for every tree that is cut down.

      • I do think there are some very poor reasons for cutting down trees that we ought to reevaluate. Though there are also a few good reasons for doing so in the city– for instance, when a tree on a parking strip has a decaying core and may fall on someone. Trees age as humans do and sometimes a tree is ready to die.

  243. What a beautiful story. I actually moved to Oregon because of the trees. I’m not originally from here, but I used to drive to the Coast from Southern Idaho. The trees were beautiful each time I passed through, tall and strong, in a variety of color depending on the time of year. Living here now, the winters are worth living through when, come Spring, the colors are so vibrant and the flowers start blooming all around town. Sometimes I forget what it was like to live in the city, with all the incredibly tall buildings, cars honking and people screaming. Although there are greener areas in the city, it never compares to the forest areas that surrounds the area I live.

    • Thanks for sharing your love of trees with us, Ruth. I understand that parts of Idaho have some gorgeous trees as well. And here in the valley, an urban tree planting groups has been responsible for planting hundreds of trees to make up an “urban forest”. If you climb Skinner’s Butte and look down on the city, you can see all that green.

    • In contrast to your move to Oregon, I had opposite feelings when I moved from Oregon to Sacramento (about 7 years ago). While Sacramento had more sun, it had hardly any trees (compared to Oregon). I found it depressing living in an area with so little ‘green’ and longed for a location with more trees. That said, I moved about a year later.

      • Pioneers had some gorgeous descriptions of the Sacramento Valley covered in native wildflower blooms, which native women had helped propagate.

      • When you look at the tempearture difference you can imagine why we have a lot of trees. It always rains here which gives it a good landscape for trees to grow big and strong. There’s nothing more fun then to take a back road, roll your window down, and just take in all that nature and Oregon have to offer.

  244. Abandoning our human separateness will bring us closer to nature. It will allow us to see our world for all of its beauty and glory. Although I live in a pretty large town, my favorite thing to do in the summer is to hike with my dog. I love being a witness to what he explores and watching his curiousness unfold as he sees new animals and smells new environments. It is so fun to learn about nature through someone/something who enjoys it so fully. I find so much pleasure in watching my nieces smell flowers for the first time, or showing my nephews tadpoles in the river. Watching others appreciate nature makes me truly grateful for the things I’ve seen and makes me want to help ensure these things will last for future generations.

    • When you look at tall buildings and skyscrapers everyday in a big city it can really take you by surprise on how amazing life is when your out around nature. When with animals, it can sometimes be fun to watch them experience such wonders as nature as well like when they get in the water for the first time and it’s almost like a little kid with a big smile on its face. It makes you appriciate what nature has to offer.

    • As more and more of us live in urban environments like the one where you are, I like the fact that there seems to be a movement toward more accessing and honoring the natural world in such environments– as in urban gardens and forests and green spaces in general so that you and your dog (and all of us) cam tale advantage.

    • I love nature; I did love watching animals in their own environment. The closes thing I have to nature in the city is to watch birds eating from the bird feeder on my balcony.

  245. What i find really interesting is that i know trees are a huge part of our world today, but i’m really sure if they can help fight breast cancer. I’d like to believe this true and i’m sure it helps reduce pain to see something so big and strong that is a big part of our lives that it gives people hope. I just find it hard to believe that such parts of nature can help truly cure such diseases as cancer.

    • Thoughtful response: one thing we have documented. Such connection with the natural world boosts the working of our immune system, so that those in hospital rooms that look out on trees heal faster than those whose rooms have no such views.
      I think of it this way: our ancestor’s bodies developed in tun with ecosystems for thousands of years– so why should they not respond to the natural world in a healing way?

  246. This is a great story on people being in touch with nature after a traumatic health issues. A tree is life, trees give you shade, trees are homes, tress are safety, some trees produce food for all, trees live long life’s.

  247. Nature is a powerful cure and always will be. I know a story of a woman well into her 90s, capable of living on her own and in excellent health for her age, who tended to the garden in her backyard every day and spent most of her time outside. Her children decided that she should be in a nursing home for her own safety as they were both employed full time and not in good health themselves. The forced her to go from her home and garden to a small one roomed facility with a window that did not open, with attendants who treated her like an invalid. Within two weeks her health declined and she died. She was a friend of my grandmother, who upon telling us what happened made my parents promise her that they would not force her to do the same. Her greatest frustration though was that the woman’s children did not realize what they had done. They justified their actions saying that she wasn’t in as good of health as they thought and they made the right decision. They failed to realize that the garden was what was keeping her alive, as everyone else who knew her believed. Nature keeps us safe our entire lives. We are born from a natural process and when we die we return to dust. If you remove nature from the rest of our lives, life is not whole or satisfying.

    • This is a sad story that needs to be repeated so that we can learn from it. I know another woman (a neighbor) who broke a hip and died in a nursing home under similar circumstances– though it took a few months. The staff kept saying she had “dementia”– but she was perfectly rational whenever I saw her. One of the last times I saw her I took her outside and as the sun hit her face, she told me, “Thanks for taking me home”.
      I know her children loved her dearly– perhaps that is also the case with your grandmother’s friend– I am glad she was able to advocate for herself with her own children in this way.
      Certainly in the midst of their grief it would be difficult for either of these families to think they did the wrong thing for their mother– but as a community we need to create better options. I am glad for the Medicare options that are allowing more of the elderly to stay in their own homes, even if it is motivated by saving money.

  248. I’ve always looked at big, old trees to be these sort of wise magical beings. Not to be repetitive but I have to mention Pocahontas again, I realize that the disney film is completely ridiculous and racially inaccurate on the whole but the wise old tree in that film has always stuck with me. Like the people in your story whenever I see a large ancient tree I find myself unconsciously stare at it as if I am looking for some form of clarity or answers to the riddle that is life, they seem healing and like they have all the answers. Whether that is the truth or not it is a nice notion to have.

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