|You only need to be in the|
proximity of trees to gain
their health benefits--but go ahead
and hug one anyway
I read recently that ancient bristlecone forests in North America are falling victim to a fungal disease spread by pine beetles. Many years ago I visited a grove of these trees in the White Mountains of southeastern California, and was awed by both their age and beauty. Each tree was arboreal sculpture, some with no more life than a few clusters of needles at the tips of contorted branches. To know that trees as old as the pyramids of Egypt are dying prematurely deserves some serious contemplation. I have also traveled through the Brazilian Amazon as a magazine reporter and seen trees spreading out to the horizon in all directions. In the Sierra Madre of Mexico, I witnessed old-growth Ponderosa pine forests being savaged by industrial logging financed by the World Bank. Ironically, in Oregon, where trees on public lands could actually be sustainably harvested to the economic benefit of all, they are left practically untouched.I have an affinity for trees that’s unusual even for an Oregon native. I graduated with a minor in forestry from OSU, so I know something about the economic and recreational value of forests. Their importance to some of our most pressing environmental problems should also not be underestimated. We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, trees turn the insubstantiality of sunlight into food for insects and wildlife, and we use trees to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes. One of the best things we can do to heal the earth while also serving humanity is to plant trees—en mass. It’s been said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time? Today.
Leave it to the Japanese to popularize an esthetic practice involving trees that sounds a bit kooky but which caused The Ogler to sit up and take notice. In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call “forest bathing.” A long walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases the killer T cells in the immune system, about which I’ve already written. Trees are known to release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals, some of which are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. Among the many good reasons to spend time in the woods should be added the possibility that trees offer a yet unknown degree of protection against cancer. The shade they provide also protects us against damage caused by UV radiation that can lead to melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.
I’ve always believed that there was nothing wrong with being a tree hugger. Now I know for sure.