Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

Do you know when the phrase ‘tree hugger’ was coined?

I didn’t, so I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term dates from 1965. Other words coined that year: jet lag, mini dress, pop art, teach-in, doo-wop and time traveller.

Reading these words, I felt like a time traveller myself. In part this is because those words are so familiar now but also because the connotations of ‘tree hugger’ have changed so much. In 1965,  tree hugger was a derogatory term. Not so today.

Today’s tree huggers are environmentalists. People who care about the world they are part of.  People willing to act to protect what they love. I happily put myself in that category.

Trees speak to me in the way that flowers speak to many other avid gardeners. Every day for the last month, I’ve posted a photo on Instagram of a tree I’ve seen somewhere in the world. (My Instagram posts can be found at glen_villa_garden.) Each tree had its own personality, its own voice — sometimes, even its own face.

 

Seen at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia
I saw this face on a tree at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia.

 

Trees with sculptural qualities appeal to me enormously, particularly when they are silhouetted against the sky …

 

A dead tree is striking against an intensely blue sky. Seen at Tuba Tree Camp in Botswana.
I spotted this dead tree at Tuba Tree Camp in Botswana. It is particularly striking against the intensely blue sky .

 

… or against colourful leaves.

 

Seen at a park in Barcelona, Spain.
I saw this branch twisting towards the sky at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

 

Trees talk to us about many things. About youth and possibilities…

 

This seedling will eventually become a grand horse chestnut tree.
This seedling will eventually become a grand horse chestnut tree. We started it from seed a few years ago.

 

… and about aging with dignity.

 

These ancient olive trees are in a private garden in the south of Italy.
These ancient olive trees are in a private garden in the south of Italy.

 

They show us the beauty of every season, blossoming in spring,

 

These crabapple trees are in my daughter's garden in North Hatley, Quebec.
These crabapple trees are in my daughter’s garden in North Hatley, Quebec.

 

spreading shade in summer,

 

The linden, or basswood, tree at Glen Villa is the perfect image of what a tree can be, as round and shapely as a child's drawing.
The linden, or basswood, tree at Glen Villa is the perfect image of what a tree can be, round and shapely.

 

turning the world into a bag of gumdrops in autumn,

 

Trees at the edge of a field at Glen Villa are typical of autumn glory in Quebec's Eastern Townships.
No licorice gumdrops, please! Trees at the edge of a field at Glen Villa are typical of autumn’s glory in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

 

and giving snow a place to rest in winter.

 

Snow outlines these old crabapple trees at Glen Villa.
Snow outlines these old crabapple trees at Glen Villa.

 

Trees speak, if we listen closely enough. Sometimes they make us laugh.

 

The semaphore tree at Glen Villa seems to be sending a message to someone, somewhere. Or is it an elderly dancer, still holding onto her pom poms?
The semaphore tree at Glen Villa seems to be sending a message to someone, somewhere. Or is it an elderly cheerleader, still clinging to her pom-poms?

 

Sometimes they share their anger or frustration, or shout out some news.

 

This tree is shouting about something. But what?
This tree is shouting about something. But what? I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?

 

Sometimes they only stand and stare.

 

Birch eyes stare at passers by in the woods at Glen Villa.
They also serve who only stand and wait. Birch eyes look at passers-by in the woods at Glen Villa with steely eyes.

 

Sometimes they make us wince, to see what we have done to them.

 

These pollarded trees will grow again. But until they do, their stubs seem as painful as fingers amputated at the first joint.
These pollarded trees in a London suburb will grow again. But until they do, their stubs seem as painful as fingers amputated at the joint.

 

Trees make our world a better place.  They play a critical role in the on-going battle against the impacts of climate change. They absorb harmful pollutants, regulate water flows, and support the habitats of migratory plants and animals. Sometimes, they offer examples of determination and persistence, soundlessly urging us to keep on trying.

 

hotel wall (6 of 6)
This birch beside my daughter’s house is gradually splitting the boulder. I’ve watched the crack widen by fractions every year. What amazing strength!

 

Trees arranged in formal patterns become picture postcard views.

 

The curving line of trees at La Foce edges a road that winds up a hill in the distance. It has become an iconic Tuscan scene.
The curving line of trees at the Italian garden La Foce edges a road that winds up a hill in the distance. It has become an iconic Tuscan scene.

 

Standing alone, they become art.

 

tree rings
Tree Rings is my sculpture made to honour the life of an old maple tree. It stands near the house at Glen Villa.

 

Trees share their bounty as sap …

 

Buckets collect sap from maple trees at Glen Villa to be boiled down into maple syrup.
Buckets collect sap from maple trees at Glen Villa to be boiled down into maple syrup.

 

… and as fruit.

 

In late summer, children and grandchildren gathered apples from the many old apple trees at Glen Villa.
In late summer, children and grandchildren gathered apples from the many old apple trees at Glen Villa.

 

They add order when order is called for …

 

A Christmas tree plantation in the Eastern Townships, not far from where we live.
A Christmas tree plantation in the Eastern Townships, not far from where we live.

 

or when order makes the ordinary special.

 

Trees and mounds of grass form a chequerboard at Le Jardin Plume, in France.
Trees and mounds of grass form a chequerboard at Le Jardin Plume, in France.

 

Trees can perform miracles. When planted with intent, they transform a space into something new. Or as the Chilean landscape architect Juan Grimm said,

A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden.”

 

“A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden.” Chilean landscape architect, Juan Grimm:
This garden in the woods is at the Scottish garden Broadwoodside, one of my favourite gardens anywhere.

 

Recently I read a post on Dirt, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects about Marina Abramović, the performance artist . Her advice? Go out and hug a tree. Hug it tightly for at least 15 minutes. Tell the tree your troubles, pour out your anger, your frustration, your woe. The tree will absorb your negative emotions and you will feel rejuvenated.

Who knows, she may be right. Anyone who has gone for a walk in the woods and come back feeling relaxed and ready to face life again will agree that simply being in nature brings positive benefits. Forest bathing, a practice that began in Japan in the 1980s, has verified the therapeutic effects and is being used more and more widely.

For novice tree huggers, Abramović suggests that you  “… choose a tree that you like… Pick the tree because of [w]hatever triggers your affection… Don’t immediately hug the tree. Just feel the energy … not touching it but just holding your hands a little bit above.  And then complain your heart into it.  .. you feel rejuvenated. You feel happy after that.”

I don’t often complain to trees but I do hug them, actually and metaphorically. I thank them, every day, all year long. In turn, they reward me in more ways than I can count.

Your tree for the season may be real or artificial. It may be big or small, decorated or left in its natural glory. Or you may not have a tree at all.

 

Christmas tree (1 of 1)
Our Christmas tree is decorated with an odd assortment of hand-made ornaments or those given us over the years.

 

No matter. The trees are there, outside your window, in the park nearby or outside the city where forests survive. Thank them, one and all. Maybe even give one a hug. If Abramović is right, you’ll feel happier. Maybe the tree will, too. And who doesn’t want a little happiness these days?