Tiny Tree Tales
Six very short stories about trees.
‘So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.’
― Hermann Hesse, from Wandering: Notes and Sketches
Around thirty per cent of the world’s 58,497 tree species are threatened with extinction, according to the 2021 State of the World’s Trees report. Habitat loss and, in particular, clearing for farming, is the greatest threat to tree species. According to the report, over the past 300 years, ‘global forest area has decreased by about forty per cent and twenty-nine countries have lost more than ninety per cent of their forest cover’.
Future Library, a project by artist Katie Paterson, is a forest in Norway comprising 1000 trees planted in 2014. In 2114, the trees will be cut down and transformed into paper to create an anthology of books. One hundred writers, one per year, will contribute a text which will be held in trust – unread and unpublished – until 2114. Writers who have contributed to the project so far include Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Elif Shafak, Karl Ove Knausgård and Ocean Vuong. ‘I imagine the tree rings as chapters in a book,’ Paterson has said. ‘The unwritten words, year by year, activated, materialised. The visitor’s experience of being in the forest, changing over decades, being aware of the slow growth of the trees containing the writers’ ideas like an unseen energy.’
Trees are cool. Real cool. For every ten per cent increase in tree canopy cover, land surface temperatures reduce by 1.13 degrees Celsius. That’s why cities around the world are bingeing on tree planting. Shanghai, Ottawa, New York and Los Angeles have all committed to one million tree initiatives, and both Sydney and Melbourne have plans to increase canopy cover to forty per cent. Increasing tree canopy in urban areas is one of the most cost-efficient and effective strategies to mitigate the heat island effect and adapt to climate change. Not only that, a ten per cent increase in street tree canopy can increase the value of properties by an average of $50,000.
In 2020, a UK woman married a tree, changing her last name to Alder. She did so in protest at a proposed bypass through her local park. Women have also married trees in the Mexican state of Oaxaca to raise awareness of illegal logging and land clearing.
The language we use for the anatomy of trees is both familiar and foreign. At the centre of every tree is heartwood. Heartwood is dead wood, no longer able to carry food and water. This job is fulfilled by sapwood – flesh that sucks water, minerals and nutrients from the roots to the tips of the tree. Every year, the sapwood thickens, growing outwards. Every year, some sapwood turns into heartwood, making the heart of the tree stronger and sturdier as it grows.