The Science Side (presented as a Toastmasters speech in 2012)
About twelve years ago, I walked down a forest path and was met with a wave of love so profound and compelling that I began to cry. It came from a magnificent and noble Oak tree. This began a fascinating and fulfilling odyssey of learning from, living with, and loving with trees, and a small patch of forest became my happiest place to be on earth.
When I began to write a book about the experiences I and others were having there, I decided to learn about what is known in the scientific world about trees and found to my amazement that some of what I was experiencing emotionally and spiritually and information I received spiritually about trees had indeed been explored scientifically and I learned more about just how essential trees are for life on earth to continue.
I’d like today to share some of what I am learning with you, because it is so exciting to me. Here are some things trees can do:
Trees translate cosmic forces and sunlight into food for themselves and everyone else. They are intelligent, curious, protective, cooperative and/or competitive depending on many factors. They adapt to complex changes in their environment; making new decisions continuously. They can use predictive modeling based on their memories of past trends to prepare for coming conditions. They can even overwrite their own genetic code, going back to previous models or producing new ones as necessary. They communicate with and heal each other and give to us of themselves unceasingly, despite all the ways in which humanity has destroyed them and their habitat. Trees can be warriors when necessary, recognizing the difference between self and other, using their powerful immune systems to repel or fight off or even kill herbivorous insects and animals. They can recognize previous perpetrators and react accordingly. They are social beings, forming communities, sending warnings to each other, coordinating actions. Trees decide how to grow, which branches are necessary and where to place them, what size the leaves should be in different parts of the plant. And the older they are, the more wisdom they accumulate and can pass on through their genetic coding.
Trees give us fruit, nuts, oils and sap and we use their wood for building and for fire. They emit aerosols from flowers, leaves and bark that can lift our spirits and open blocked arteries and protect us from cancer and infection and improve brain function. Tiny hairs on tree leaves comb the air of pollutants and heavy metals. The roots purify and preserve our waterways and use electrostatic forces to stabilize the aquifer into water columns. Their hormones help the caterpillar develop and give the butterflies the energy to migrate. Trees can see, reading the full spectrum of light, while we can see only a small range of the spectrum. They produce antiviral, antibiotic, anti-fungal medicines. Their sap feeds birds, butterflies, squirrels, and ants. Even when dead, their leaves shelter insects like ladybugs, feed and moisten soil organisms and their logs grow lichen that feed the migratory herds. Trees collect water and produce rain.
As for global climate change and our survival, the best thing we can do is protect and nurture and plant trees. After all, they created the conditions for us in the first place. Before there was oxygen in the atmosphere, there was carbon dioxide. Trees and other plants and algae turned that carbon dioxide into oxygen and nutrients, paving the way for us to be here. They can do that again now if we bring them back. You may know people have cut down most of the trees on the planet. Trees are the lungs of the planet. Not only do they sequester and transform carbon, but also nitrogen. When excess nitrogen from current farming practices gets into the ocean it causes algae to bloom, creating oxygen-depletion and dead zones. That means if the trees die, so does all life in the ocean, and I believe we will not survive the death of the ocean. In Canada where they are talking about cutting down much of the boreal forest to get to the oil in the tar sands, the loss of these millions of acres of great trees, could spell extinction for the ocean life and all life.
I used to think that plants and animals were very different, even alien to each other. Now I find that plants are amazingly similar to humans, having analogues to most of our functions and more. The chlorophyll molecule is almost exactly the same as our red blood cell, except that at the center of our cells we have iron, and the center of theirs is magnesium. These red and green sister cells are at the center of the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that keeps us all alive. Many tree hormones, neuro-peptides, etc., like serotonin, are spelled exactly the same or exactly the reverse of ours, built from the same aromatic hydrocarbons. There is a synchronicity and interdependence here that is just beginning to be explored.
Our bodies have trillions of cells all communicating through chemical means to live and act and respond to our environment and so do trees. They may not have centralized brains as we do, but their entire form provides a distributed intelligence, a huge neural net, producing thousands of chemical signals.
Trees have complex sexual lives, carried out by hormones just like ours, advertising their sexual readiness, carrying on the process of sexual relations in multiple heterosexual, homosexual, and self-pollinating and self-cloning practices that could fill a kama sutra. And they prepare for parenthood and nurture and protect and nourish their seeds and seedlings.
Trees sing, not just the sounds we can hear, but also using carbon-coded calls and infrasound. The shape the tree chooses makes for a sound that is as unique as our fingerprints and may be used to communicate just as elephants and giraffe and whales do.
As for the mental, psychic and spiritual life of the trees, I will save that for another speech. But suffice it to say, when you’ve been loved by a tree, you never have to feel alone again.
Trees are our loving companions. Cherishing them, preserving them and replanting our forests is the most important thing we can do to preserve and thrive humanity and indeed all life on our beautiful planet.