Not having been able to get out hiking for a few weeks, I’ve started to get the familiar nature craving, and I’ve been thinking about trees…
Some hikers are all about the summits and breathtaking views, but for me, it’s all about the trees. There is an indescribable quality about the air in the woods, a soothing, infectious peace that infuses the air, and very quickly my body, whenever I visit. The smell of pine and damp vegetation and earth; small sounds made by unseen creatures; the susurration of leaves in the wind; the shifting colours of green or soft autumnal russets or stark winter white; all these combine to produce the sensation of having entered another world entirely from that of the day to day harshly lit city streets. And it’s like my body lets a huge breath out, releasing all the accumulated stress… Aaaand relax.
It’s popular in environmental circles nowadays to point out the utility and the monetary value of everything. And you can see the temptation to do this, for the economists and policymakers of this world care about money above all. The thinking goes, if we can show the woods are valuable, then they will be protected. And to some extent, this works. So we emphasise the value of the fact that woodland cover prevents soil erosion, and flooding, that trees are the lungs of the planet, that they sequester carbon and give off oxygen, and all those good things. And calculations can be made of the sterling values of these ‘ecosystem services’. But the trouble with reducing everything to a mere monetary value is that if it can later be shown that more money can be made by clear-cutting the wood than preserving it, then the battle is lost.
When studying conservation biology at university I remember arguing with a lecturer regarding the ‘value’ of nature. His argument was that nature has a ‘value’ which depends entirely upon its usefulness to humans, either as a resource, a service provider or even just because humans enjoy visiting, but he refused to acknowledge that it had any kind of intrinsic value of its own, independent of any human needs or concerns.
I think we need to be unafraid to acknowledge that, while trees do provide all those essential services, they also have a priceless intrinsic value of their own. Trees are magical. They have a deep wisdom and presence. Our remaining ancient woodland is not only an irreplaceable wildlife habitat and handy flood defence, it’s also soul food, it’s sacred, it’s a living connection to the spirits of place, and its value transcends money. Not for nothing do Druids revere trees.
So I give my time and my money to two organisations nowadays, the first is Treesisters (www.treesisters.org) who are on a mission to reforest the tropics and who combine feminine spirituality with replanting as many trees as possible in this vital area of the world. The second is the Woodland Trust (www.woodlandtrust.org.uk) who are fighting to protect and restore our ancient woodland in the UK, and to create more national forest by planting trees closer to home. You might have noticed the jaunty Woodland Trust button on the home page now. (A technical marvel. I only needed a little help from the loved one to make it work…).
Because as a hiker, as a Pagan, as a Druid and as a human being, I think it’s massively important that we realise how much the woods mean to us, and that we’re willing to fight for them.