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.
Trees with sculptural qualities appeal to me enormously, particularly when they are silhouetted against the sky …
… or against colourful leaves.
Trees talk to us about many things. About youth and possibilities…
… and about aging with dignity.
They show us the beauty of every season, blossoming in spring,
spreading shade in summer,
turning the world into a bag of gumdrops in autumn,
and giving snow a place to rest in winter.
Trees speak, if we listen closely enough. Sometimes they make us laugh.
Sometimes they share their anger or frustration, or shout out some news.
Sometimes they only stand and stare.
Sometimes they make us wince, to see what we have done to them.
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.
Trees arranged in formal patterns become picture postcard views.
Standing alone, they become art.
Trees share their bounty as sap …
… and as fruit.
They add order when order is called for …
or when order makes the ordinary special.
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.”
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.
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?