Love of Life - Trees

Beyond the usually accepted height of shrubs - small (1m) or medium to large (3-4m) there are those great and wonderful upright and enduring growths we know as trees. These provide the greatest percentage of the populations of plants in the forests of our planet and are particularly abundant in the tropical and temperate regions on our planet.

We all love trees. Many of us do not know the names of those we see on film or TV or in the tourist brochures, the street trees in our region, or even those in our gardens although we appreciate their shade and their beauty.

Favourite trees are unique choices of each individual, but some trees are so popular that they are assessed as being the public choice, such as the highly ornamental jacarandas and poincianas. Through intensive cultivation we are often able to enjoy and procure specimens of our favourite trees from plant nurseries to introduce into our own gardens. However, a more intimate first contact with particular trees probably occurred when an affectionate bond was formed with the trees local to your childhood home and your parent's garden where you first explored the outdoors. These trees are likely to remain life-long favourites.

However, we all love trees for different reasons, not only for sentiment or nostalgia associated with our early life but for the appeal they have for us that allows a sense of a relationship to exist as a friend. It is easy to apply this to the great and ancient oaks and forest giants of the redwoods when the trees assume a 'grand-daddy' status and represent a power far greater than our own. But a special bond can exist between humans and plants of all kinds as we are all sentient beings and like to interact with other life forms as we do also with animals. It may be that our link with plants is more vague, or subtle and certainly less actively expressed than with animal life, but it is very real, just the same.

Sometimes our affection for trees is tinged with gratitude for the fruits and potential harvest we have, and will again enjoy; it may be that we long for its provision of shade for us to cool in the burning sun; that we will benefit by sitting in contact with its enduring trunk and by feeling its strong earth anchorage and 'feel better' for the contact; or that we will love it for the fact we planted it as a small sapling; sometimes with an associated purpose such as the Princess trees - planted by custom at the birth of a female child so that it will provide a wedding box when she comes of age; or that we enjoy the seasonal cyclic denuding and fresh foliation of the deciduous trees. Whether we love the carefully tended garden trees or the wild, untamed and irregular patterns and forms of the wilderness trees - they are all beautiful!

Some trees speak to us of gentleness and poetry as the weeping willow, others of their power and fortitude in withstanding the conflicts of the elements. Some are graceful in their growing habit and others are stark and hostile, even hurtful in their character. But even these will be found to attract people who appreciate them, to tend them and hold affection for them as they do the tall specimens of the cactus family.

The truth is that we on this planet utterly depend upon trees that dominate in the recycling and reconstituting of the earth and its surface nutrients. We depend upon the oxygen that is released to create the comfortable atmosphere that we breathe. They give us food, in their leaves, fruit and produce. They offer us organic material from their roots, bark and seeds not only for food but for medicine. We have always depended upon trees for timber for our shelters, homes, furniture, fuel - our bridges, pylons, cordage and netting, thatching and domestic utensils as well as for personal ornamental objects.

And the subtle message they present, should we care to listen, is expressed by their bravery in facing and enduring the elements, sometimes for centuries, thereby offering us the example of endurance and persistence in the face of natural conflicting forces. We learn much from the energies and souls of trees.

We have loved trees and have in ancient times linked them to the gods and given them special names and powers. We love trees still and have promoted their cultivation and developed multitudes of species, cultivars and varieties in the an endless fascination and passion common to plant lovers, foresters, botanists and the simple lovers of trees who contribute to their growth. But we must love trees even more - not only to act out the promises of past commitments to increase the forest areas of the world but to realise the significance of this prime task that is required if we are to survive as a people.

It is not possible to compare the degree or extent of the affection we have towards natural life in general. Some of us love timber trees and scorn the violet. We each can develop a passionate interest in one type of plant or tree or another and generate a special gleam in the eye when enjoying work with a particular specialised plant project.

In the case of trees in general, there is no better tribute to the passion of the "Man of the Trees" as he was known by many - Richard St Barbe Baker, the 20th century forester who undertook seemingly impossible projects and spent his life persuading us to plant trees and cease cutting down our forests. He was responsible for projects in Britain such as the increased protection of coastlines; in creating a viable scheme for tree planting of the Sahara and desert regions; his industry and influence was vitally influential in saving the Redwood Forests of North America and is still remembered for his work in Israel and in Africa. The organization he started 'Men of the Trees', attracted Royal patronage and as an organization still exists with the single commitment - to plant trees.