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Mindfulness & Trees

I fell in love with trees when I was 11 and my family took a boat trip up the Georgia Strait from Vancouver. The area was then called the Queen Charlotte Islands — and now it is more rightfully called by its Indigenous name, Haida Gwaii. I remember being awestruck by the brilliant white-tipped waves of the ocean and the snow tipped mountain peaks but also the stunning forests of fir, cedar and pines.

Cathedral Grove

Years later, when I visited Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island I stood calmly beneath an 800-year-old Douglas fir and felt wrapped in peace. A few years later, on a canoe trip in Temagami, I hiked into the Obabika old growth forest and saw 400 year old pine trees, rising skyward in an ancient spiritual place of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai people.

Susan hugging Douglas fir on Vancouver Island

Lately, I’ve been walking daily in a newer forest with oaks, maples, pines and the occasional shagbark hickory tree. There are young, tender saplings struggling to secure their bit of sun; cool shade cast by the well-established adult trees; and the elder trees tipping gracefully toward the ground, dying slowly, readying itself to nurture younger trees and other forms of life.

Suzanne Simard’s forest research

Recently, I read the forest ecologist Suzanne Simard’s seminal research, which she gratefully acknowledges is built on traditional Indigenous knowledge as well as work by non-Indigenous scientists. In her book, Finding the Mother Tree, she reveals that a forest is a deeply connected, mutually supportive community that uses its own unique form of communication. She explains beautifully in her wonderful Ted Talks video.

Simard says that trees release chemical signals through their roots and leaves, trade and share resources, help protect one another from harmful insects, and selflessly release nutrients and other important biomaterials into their community when attacked or harvested. All of this is done via a fungiform “mycorrhizal network”, also known as the “wood wide web

Mother or hub trees

Mother or hub trees actively support seedlings by providing them with nutrients essential to healthy growth. The magnificent Douglas fir, one of my favourite trees, provides carbon directly to its baby first and changes its own root structure to make room for the new trees.

Today, as I practice Mindfulness when I am walking the shoreline admiring the drooping, graceful willows or the strong white pine, maple and oak trees, I imagine the ancient, slow pulse of the hidden lives and communication surrounding me and feel connected.

Older tree offering nutrients to younger trees and others

Learning from the trees

We can learn so much from nature and our environment such as how to slow down and communicate more mindfully. In some ways, we are just like the trees: we need to actively build connection; we need to care for one another in socially sustainable relationships; we need to share resources; and we need to think about what we can do to benefit others as we prepare for our own death.

For centuries, trees have been an inextricable part of our very complex and at times fragile world. By choosing mindfulness, we can tune more deeply into the tress and ourselves.


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