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"If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it still let everyone know it updated its privacy policy?" - Unknown

Writing this was a result of first describing myself in a message to another noder as "a tree hugger", then seeing this node title and finding that it was a twenty year old nodeshell.

My tree hugging ways are probably to be expected. My parents, from at least the time that I reached puberty, were firmly in that category. I can remember pretty clearly, as a teen, getting chewed out by my stepdad, Russ, for doing damage to a tree trunk with a machete. I didn't have a reason for doing this, I was just bored. I protested that it was a tree, it didn't have feelings. "How do you know it can't feel?", was my guardian's question. I was unable to produce a cogent response. I think this was a formative exchange, at least after my initial resentment dissipated. Russ was the quintessential tree hugger.

Another major factor was reading "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson around age sixteen. That book, along with other influences, (mainly day to day home life and conversation among family), brought me gradually to a conviction that humans are not, nor can we be, separate from nature. That led to the idea that, sooner or later, what happens to nature happens to all humanity as well. I also began to gravitate toward a stronger and stronger belief in the staggering danger inherent in the law of unintended consequences. This principle applies in other arenas as well, but seems especially applicable to the perceived "man versus nature".

It often strikes me as serendipitous that my profession ended up being in the environmental field. It isn't that I chose the profession, rather it almost seems as if it chose me. Most of my professional training hours were obtained from a school called the Arkansas Environmental Academy. I used to say, only half joking, that we were the real environmentalists.

I am aware that the term "tree hugger" doesn't usually refer to literally wrapping one's arms around a tree with affection (though yes, I have). It is used, often disparagingly, to describe people who are perceived as being overly concerned with humanity's impact on the environment.

I've recently learned a few interesting, (at least to me), things about trees/forests that make me feel vindicated in my tree huggery (not a typo, I meant to say that!). The first was in the Paul Stamets book "Mycelium Running". In a section of this book, detailing the close symbiotic links between tree roots and the mycorrhizal fungi that are associated with them, Paul describes an experiment. Researchers found a mycorrhiza species that partnered with both birch (deciduous) and Douglas fir (evergreen conifer), as different from one another as two trees can be. Their two commonalities were location and the fungal network between them. In a carefully planned experiment, the researchers then duplicated these conditions in a controlled environment. A barrier was used to isolate the roots of the two specimens (birch sapling and fir sapling) while allowing the mycorrhiza fungus to connect them (an appropriate barrier was placed in the soil between them). The fir tree was then shaded, preventing any photosynthesis from occurring. The fir tree, thus deprived of life sustaining sunlight, not only survived, but continued to grow. Further experiments, adding a traceable radioactive isotope of carbon, revealed that the life giving sugars were indeed being transported from the non-occulted tree (the birch) to the shaded one (the fir) by the fungal network which both shared. These two species, which were previously believed to be strictly competitive, were cooperating through a shared symbiotic relationship with a third species, which was not even a plant {npecom pauses to hug the "generous" birch tree}.

The second vindicating thing was a Canadian documentary (B.C.) that I watched called, "Intelligent Trees", which expanded on the experiment described above. This film puts forth the idea of cooperation between, and even more often within, tree species in considerable detail and introduces a hypothetical nurturing relationship between older, established, "Mom" trees and younger, struggling, "Baby" trees. This would appear highly speculative if not for the science which, counterintuitively, seems to point in that direction.

Not all "experts" agree that any of this is proof of either intelligence or communication among trees or plants. Research continues and new information is emerging rapidly. I've linked an article below in "Smithsonian" which presents opinions on both sides of that debate. Meanwhile, I will continue to refer to myself, not altogether disparagingly, as a "tree hugger".

Do Trees Talk to Each Other?