Planting the PNA Tree Appreciation Series

Planting the PNA Tree Appreciation Series
By mattc

Four months ago a group of women from our Village program went on a journey—a journey of discovery that began with reading and discussing the book, The Hidden Life of Trees. They discovered the intricate social life of trees along with the limitless contributions that trees make to humanity and the environment. Now, they’re sharing their discoveries with the neighborhood through art, tree walks, songs, talks, and more during our PNA Tree Appreciation Series from April 22 to April 29.

We caught up with one of the women who started it all, Elizabeth White, to learn more about the roots of the new event series and her interest in trees.

We understand that reading Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” put you on path towards learning more about trees. Could you please describe your journey and what surprised you most about trees and their relationship to us?

Since I was a youth, I have always loved looking at trees. Whether they were the fruit trees in my grandmother’s garden, the oak trees on my grandfather’s farm, or the redwoods on our rare camping trips, as a youngster, that filled me with awe and inspired me to breathe deeply. I would not call myself an outdoors person but I love walking, especially the neighborhoods I have lived in and when you walk you experience trees in all four seasons. Because one of my daughter-in-laws also loves trees, she encouraged me to read The Hidden Life of Trees.

Long before it was a topic for our book group, I had read this book and the amazing story of the trees the author cares for. I was astonished at their intricate communication and support systems. For example, in a forest trees support each other with nutrients and communicate possible dangers to their existence and adapt to fight invaders. Now, these changes are at tree speed, which is very slow. As I consider it now this is amazing.

Trees are slow to react and adapt but then their life span is much longer and they naturally take the long view. And trees in forests move, again slowly, but they do. That was for me startling to know. Perhaps trees can teach us that taking the long view and slowing down would be better for us and the trees. I have come to realize that we need trees more than they need us. They calm the soul, they nourish the mind, and they stimulate the senses.

Autumn trees with orange and yellow leaves.“I encountered these trees on one of my walks the autumn before the pandemic shut down.”

What’s your favorite tree species? Why?

I actually do not have one favorite but I will write about a few that are important to me. The California live oaks that stood on a part of my grandfather’s land. So majestic and I now know much older than I realized at the time. The redwoods I experienced on our camping trips in my youth. Tall, overwhelming, and their pine scent in the morning to this day reminds me of those trips with my parents. Then the deciduous trees—the maples and the liquid ambers. There have been many walks in autumn in which I have encountered one of these trees and stood in awe. The colors and variations and intensity have always brought me peace and comfort. And, of the small trees, I like the lace leaf maple but that is because it was one of my late husband’s favorites.

What motivated you to help organize the PNA Tree Appreciation Series and share your discoveries with the neighborhood?

At the last tree book club meeting, our group leader asked what would be our next steps and how could we educate others about what this book had shown us. In a moment of insanity or inspiration, my co-organizer and I volunteered. We thought we could organize an event and began looking for possible dates on the calendar. We looked up when National Arbor Day would be and found it is the 29 of April this year. Looking at that month we realized also that Earth Day was the 22 of April. I think from the beginning they and I imagined doing a week-long event. Exactly what we would be doing was still in the formative stages.

Two trees in the neighborhood, one with tiny houses on its branches (left) and the other with a mouth on the trunk (right).“Trees inspire us to be whimsical and creative!”

What do you hope folks who engage our PNA Tree Appreciation events take home with them and share?

I am hoping that those who participate will experience what we experienced during our book group. I hope they will see that trees are more; that they have a rich societal system; that they enrich the world in which they inhabit; that they provide refreshment for the body and the mind; that they are vital for the continued existence of humanity (we need trees more than they need us). Trees are not just a majestic or pretty object. They are a sentient being that has influenced for millennia the worlds in which they inhabit. I want at least one person to come away from this week with the feeling of awe that I have felt as I have walked among the trees in my area; I want at least one person to realize that one is a powerful number when preserving what trees can offer us and do offer us.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about trees, your tree journey, or the PNA Tree Appreciation Series?

I just hope that people find the time to attend at least one of the events. My co-organizer and I have met and talked and emailed some incredible people as we assembled this series. Experts who are giving their time and talent to further our knowledge of trees. No matter what your age or background or education, we need to be open to new ideas and discussions. I hope these events spark a movement in our community to look on our trees with different eyes and to further explore the trees in our community. My co-organizer and I have this vision that perhaps this series will become an annual event. But, for now, we would just like to see as many people as possible come and participate.