The Human-Tree Relationship

Most scientists agree that all humans were at one time tree huggers. That is, literally, our human ancestors were arboreal – they lived in trees. Nobody is sure exactly why, but at some point our ancestors decided to stop hugging and swinging around in trees and go it on foot.

Since then, and especially in the last 200 years, the human-tree relationship has followed the same path as many other human-earthresource relationships . . . increasing estrangement.
The deterioration of the relationship between humans and trees has been so rapid in the last hundred years that an average 21st century human is likely confused by the common names of our native trees. What is “white” about a White Oak tree, or “red” about a Red Oak tree? Why is one type of oak tree called a “Post Oak?” Then you have “Sweetgum,” and “Sugar Maple.” Even when we might partly fathom the name origin, as with Sugar Maple, it is certain that less than 1% of our current population would have any idea how to harvest the sap from a sugar maple and turn it into a delicious syrup.

Individually, we simply don’t depend on trees as intimately as we once did.
An oak tree is “red” if its lumber has a reddish color. If you have a hardwood floor there is a good chance it is made of red oak. The wood from a white oak has a much lighter-colored grain. If you need a good, stout, weather-resistant post you cut it from the wood of a “post oak.” Ah, but that is all superfluous knowledge now. Today if you need to build something you go to Lowe’s and find the appropriate aisle. No more relationship is required between you and earth resource at Lowe’s than is required between you and earth resource when you wolf down your McDonalds hamburger. The tree and the cow have become practically forgotten by the end user of the resource.
So the question remains, “What is the nature of the 21st century relationship between human and tree?”
In an urban environment I am sure that you don’t look out your window to see a tree and immediately assess its utilitarian value. If you look out your window and see a tree, and if you like to see a tree outside your window, then there is something else going on. Maybe a deeper affinity between living thing and living thing. An appreciation of natural architecture, perhaps. Or maybe an appreciation for the shelter from the sun’s burning rays in summer. Maybe an appreciation for the wildlife the tree supports. Whatever the case, our connection, our relationship, with trees is no longer primarily utilitarian. Today it takes a leap of knowledge and perhaps a leap of the imagination to fully appreciate the significance of trees in our lives.
Enter the arborist.

 A good arborist, like a good marriage counselor, shouldn’t be on either party’s side.
A good arborist doesn’t want the trees to dominate any more than he or she wants the people to dominate.
A good arborist strives for a good, healthy relationship between people and trees.
A good arborist tries to make sure that the relationship between trees and people is mutually beneficial.
A good arborist wants to improve the quality of life on both sides of the relationship.

The fact is, whether or not you are felling a tree in your back yard and sawing its wood to make boards for your home, your fate on this planet is still intertwined with the fate of the trees on this planet.  So far the relationship has been like a youthful romance. Wild, sometimes abusive, often destructive . . .it will be interesting to see where we go next.

Can we build and maintain a healthy relationship? Can we build a relationship that will last?

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