• Cindy Mundahl

Life Lessons from Trees

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I’ve long felt an affinity with trees. When I was young, I liked to climb them, hide in their branches and pretend it was my home. It wasn’t until I turned to the healing power of nature after my breakdown that I felt an even deeper connection with trees. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time. I noticed how they interacted with each other, how the dead trees contained millions of universes that the human eye couldn’t see and that the mind couldn’t begin to fathom. They taught me that stillness is beautiful and that bending was more life giving than rigidity. In today’s world which is riddled with human strife and violence, I continue to look to the trees to find solace. I wonder if we humans will ever possess enough grace and wisdom to learn our place in the world from the trees around us.

Trees are living beings and we take them for granted, much like we do the people in our lives. They have complicated ways of communicating, especially when they feel threatened. When an animal begins to nibble on its leaves, a tree will work to create bitterness in its leaves to ward off further consumption. Remarkably, at the same time, the tree will emit a fragrance that other trees within 100 yards will pick up so that they can begin to make their own leaves bitter to keep the animal from snacking on it to its detriment. Trees look out for each other regardless of species. The Birch tree doesn’t just warn other Birch trees, it warns all of the neighboring trees. It knows the value of keeping its fellow trees safe from harm. The more trees that are kept alive, the more all of the trees thrive.

Imagine if humans would do the same and look out for each other regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Trees don’t stop to determine if the tree to its left is similar enough to warrant protection, it simply does what’s best for trees as a whole. This is what nature intended, but somewhere along the way humans became disconnected from nature and with each other.

There’s no greed among trees and often times friendship is evident. Beech trees are known to feed each other, ensuring that the weaker trees survive as it’s in the best interest of all of the trees. If they were political, trees would probably be socialists because they understand that having enough for their own survival is sufficient and that if it’s in a position to aid a fellow tree, it should do so without hesitation. Humans have fallen far from the notion of communal sustainability. Our culture rewards greed and celebrates individuality to the point that we are often hoarding resources for ourselves believing that we are the only ones that matter. We live under the spell of the false notion that we are all disconnected and that our fates are not linked. Trees know better. They understand they are all connected and act in a manner to ensure each other’s survival to the best of their ability.

Even dead trees provide nourishment for other trees and shelter for insects and animals. They’re the perfect ancestor, providing for others and contributing to the natural world long after their living days are over. I wish humans would aspire to be as giving as trees. There are many lessons for us in the natural world, and trees seem to me to be the ideal role model for humans if we’d only stop long enough to observe them and take in their lessons.

Want to learn more about the amazing lives of trees? I highly recommend Peter Wohlleben’s book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World.”

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