Trees were already my heroes, and since reading “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World” by Peter Wohlleben and Tim Flannery I have become even more entranced with them. Because I am excited about the information, here is a brief summary of some of the fascinating they are discovering about trees.

They are social beings, they live in community, communicating amongst themselves and with other species. They have memories, experience pain and nurse their young.

The languages they use to communicate are chemical signals through the air and underground electrical signals. Sugars, nutrients and electrical signals are passed through a network of interconnected roots and fungi under the earth. Dr. Suzanne Simard, UBC, calls this the “wood wide web.” Sending pheromones and chemical signals through the air they warn each other of dangers such as insect attacks and diseases and work together as a community to help ward off threats.

They form friendships to help each other stay healthy and live longer – they care for each other. If one in their community is sick others come to its aid by sending them the vital sugar and nutrients via their “wood wide web.”

If one tree in a community is getting lots of sun and water and is making more than enough sugar for itself it shares with trees that are not in ideal growing conditions, equalizing the amount of sugar for each tree in the community.

They also communicate with other species such as birds and insects through their emissions.

They operate much more slowly on a different time table than we do, however they have a sense of time and the ability to remember. They sense temperature and day length, compare the amount of sunlight from one day to the next to know when to let their leaves fall.

They are also individuals. Even trees of the same species living in the same conditions don’t react in the same way, and some of them make bad decisions for their health and survival just the way humans do.

They learn. If a tree goes through a dry spell and uses too much of its stored water, it will ration its water in the future even if there is plenty of water at the time.

If a tree suffers pain and injuries in its trunk it fortifies the weak areas.

Trees are heroically working to improve the quality of our air –trapping large quantities of pollen, dust and pollutants produced by humans, and giving back beneficial compounds such as phytoncides that have antibiotic properties. During the day a healthy forest is high in oxygen but at night, when the trees are resting from photosynthesizing they are emitting carbon dioxide, which is why we have a different experience being in the forest at night.

A crucial bit of information: It is the old growth forests that are adding beneficial compounds to the air. Trees in planted, artificially managed forests are sending out distress messages and pumping out defensive chemicals that cause stress in humans. 

Trees in forests act as “water pumps” taking vapor that blows in from the ocean and transferring that water, forest by forest, deeper into inland regions so they don’t dry out.

They are crucial to the global carbon cycle, influencing our global climate.

More recent studies show that many established assumptions are not accurate, and that they are much more like animals than has previously been believed.

One of the assumptions to be rethought: Scientists have believed spruce trees live about five hundred years. In Sweden, a small spruce trunk surrounded by shrubby growth was found and researchers concluded its roots are 9,550 years old. Until this discovery they believed that the first conifer appeared in this region only about 2,000 years ago. Wohlleben says “For me, this inconspicuous small plant is a symbol for how little we understand about forests and trees and how many wonders we have yet to discover.”

And all of this is the measurable science. Just as science has yet to pin down our human soul, our spirit, our consciousness under the microscope, personally I believe it is the same for trees. They too have their unique consciousness and are willing and available to interact with us should we be open to it. Many of our ancestors knew this and in these times we are being invited to reawaken, re-connect, re-integrate and recognize our interdependence with the phenomenal more-than-humans around us. 

Next time you meet a tree, please treat with dignity and offer gratitude. 

Better yet, approach with respect, be gentle and don’t trample their roots, ask permission to engage, introduce yourself, reveal more about yourself and your life (just as would when talking with any intimate) so they get to know you — and then breathe, breathe some more, be still, listen, listen, listen.  Prepare to be amazed!

We humans tend to take from, want something from.  This time offer yourself, your friendship.  Of course, if you have permission, touch, hug, lean, embrace.  Breathe with.   

And don’t forget to express your gratitude when you leave.

love, light, laughter, linda

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Arbutus Dragon

When I was young I loved to draw trees. I felt such pleasure focusing on the intricacy of each branch connecting to another branch then another branch then a smaller branch, out to the tiniest twig. No two formations ever duplicated. Drawing roots held the same fascination for me. I imagined that if I were to somehow be able to grab a tree in the middle of the trunk and turn it upside down the branches would become its roots and its roots its branches.

I don’t’ recall ever sitting down in front of a tree to try to copy it, I drew from my imagination and happily impressed myself with the wonderful results. Unfortunately none of those early masterpieces have survived.

At that time in my life all that I was awake to was that trees were outdoor things, pretty enough and somehow worthy of my fascination. No consciousness or clue that they are also living, breathing beings and that one day I would wake up to our relationship with each other. It was beyond my comprehension to consider that far into the future, when someone asked me who I hold as a hero I would reply “the tree.”

Long ago, I don’t quite remember when or why, I stopped drawing trees.   I vaguely recall eventually being sent to an art lesson, being told to copy a mug and an apple, then being told I wasn’t good enough and believing it.

Many years later I connected with my enduring love of hiking, tenting in the forest, and the experience of becoming grounded and soothed amongst trees.

My most powerful awakening showed up in a surprising way one remarkable night.

When my 30-year old younger son became quickly and intensely addicted to drugs I was ignorant and ill-informed about that world. His tragic death from dirty drugs was devastating for me. As I look back now I see that it took me years to emerge, cycling through varied phases of shock and grieving. One belief I carry is that the draw to drugs and what fuels the addiction for many people of all ages is their yearning to satisfy a spiritual longing, to fulfill a spiritual emptiness that is somehow not being met in everyday life. Unfortunately it is still rare in our era and in our culture to offer responsible, skilled guidance to those seekers and I profoundly regret that I wasn’t awake enough to provide this for my beloved son.

This belief was an aspect of my desire to understand for myself what lay beyond the barriers of everyday consciousness. My good fortune was that I was given the gift of being initiated into the world of teacher plants by loving, responsible, skilled guides.

A couple of hours into my first journey, suddenly the walls, the doors, the structures around me simply dissolved.   Now there was no human-constructed barrier between indoors and outdoors. Without having moved I was seated within only natural surroundings — the dark night sky, shadowy images of trees and bushes, my body responding to the spaciousness. I wanted to walk and explore, yet to do that I knew somewhere within me that I had to deal with my physical body, I had to stand up.   Without being able to explain properly even now, the cord of my ordinary consciousness was also still connected. I mustered everything I could to stand up and found myself immediately at the precipice of what my reality could tolerate: for probably a nano-second, which I still recall clearly, there was no wall and no door, I was seeing and feeling only the natural environment around me. But then, some thread of my ordinary consciousness came hurtling into the foreground insisting that to “go out” I had to reach for the door knob and open the door. Although I had that split second of knowing no wall or door existed and that all I had to do was keep walking, I was instantaneously snapped back into automatic — before I could interrupt I saw my hand materialize in front of me, I felt my mind working to manifest the door and the knob, I saw them form into solid substance in order to be touched by my hand. I opened the door and “went out” into the night.

Whenever I reflect on these moments from time to time, two things come to mind:

  1. If only I had been able to sustain that expanded consciousness longer, I would have been walking around in the natural environment without having had to manifest the wall or the door. How wondrous that would have been.
  2. Now I think I have an inkling of the role of intention that physicists talk about. Energy follows focus. Everything in our existence is a manifestation of intention, and it is within the realm of possibility to not be entranced and trapped within our common consensus of reality. I had to intend the door knob for it to be there.

Now I am wandering away from getting to my tree-awakening, so I will bring myself back to that now.

It was a cold, clear, star-lit night. But it was not the stars I was drawn to. It was the brilliance of the aliveness surrounding me. Startled at first, I blinked and gasped in wonder as I witnessed the energy field of each distinct blade of grass, plant, leaf, tree radiating exquisitely. Since that illuminating moment I regard other-than-human consciousness with the deepest respect, gratitude and awe. Simply no words at the moment to adequately describe my feelings. How fortunate for we humans that the trees and plants are not wasting their precious consciousness on manifesting door knobs.

Our own ancients knew and lived in harmony within this consciousness, accepting and honouring their interdependence. Indigenous people around the globe knew and still know. Although we humans are all indigenous to our planet, so many of us have forgotten.

Arbutus and me — not Grandmother Tree, she lives elsewhere

That night I was not hallucinating, I was being taught by being shown. This lesson has been indelibly imprinted within me.

In my range of explorations since my recent cancer diagnosis, wondering about my inner incongruities, I find that I have been separating some of my most personal, impactful learning by remaining quiet and not sharing openly with others. This is one reason why I am committed to sharing now.

I was magnetically drawn to one particular tree. She appeared to be opening her arms in invitation. Her body was much wider than mine. I leaned my back against her sturdy trunk, anticipating hard bumpiness, and was surprised to feel as if I were sinking into a cushion. There was no distinct separation between us.   I was enveloped in a lovingly tender embrace like none other I have ever experienced. I absorbed a sensation of bonding that I believe so many of my ancestors had been deprived of as they battled hardships, growing further and further away from their integral relationship with the natural world. The cord of connection that had been severed so many generations ago mended during this embrace. The frayed, disconnected strands were rewoven back in time to my ancestors and strengthened for the generations yet to come. I later learned that others before me had called this precious tree Grandmother.

Arbutus Dragon from a distance

I had embarked on my teacher plant journey with some trepidation, expecting I would be shown ugliness, more sorrow and even terror. Instead I was shown beauty. The beauty had been there all along but I had been missing it. Relationship with the natural world had been there all along but I had been missing it. So much to grieve and to praise.

That was my waking up to consciously relating with trees. There have been many amazing adventures and stories since that time, several of which gently reappeared in the foreground not long ago as I was sitting in a hot tub at night gazing up at the trees.

Because this is so long, in a separate blog I’ll add more about what I have been learning about them.

PS:   In previous blogs I may have mentioned that my journey with cancer has been a mystical experience. One dimension has been an abundance of synchronicities. And here is one right now: I began writing this blog while sitting in the Nanaimo airport — as I put away my ipad and stood up to go through Security I turned around to see a large poster with trees on it and a table with an array of printed materials. It was National Forest Week.

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