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"The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more"
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Perhaps because of their constant presence, most of us rarely lend much thought to the importance of trees in our lives, communities, and histories. We may take them for granted, or see them as mere decorations. Trees, however, are a vital and nurturing force. They benefit our environment, provide us medicines, and inspire myths and stories. One of the best ways to realize the importance of trees is to imagine our world without them.
Trees and the Environment
"The very air we breathe is improved by the presence of trees."
A book by Dr. Seuss illustrates the impact trees have on our environment. In his tale The Lorax, The disappearance of trees bears dire environmental consequences. At the onset of the story the landscape is beautiful and lush with shady groves, clean water, and ample home for wildlife. As the tale progresses and trees are cut down, the environment starts to sour. Animals flee for lack of food and shelter, the air becomes dark and dirty, and the water supply grows stale.
So too, would our environment suffer if we uprooted our own trees. Trees provide shade in summer and shelter in winter. In fact, trees planted around our homes help reduce heating and cooling costs. During summer, trees can block the sun and have a refrigerating effect on us and our homes, and during the winter months, trees can keep us warmer by shielding us from wind and snow.
The very air we breathe is improved by the presence of trees. In order to feed themselves, trees absorb harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide and in turn give off oxygen. As well, they filter and trap pollutants such as smoke, dust, and ash making our air cleaner.
Where water is concerned, trees not only absorb water - preventing flooding, but also help disperse rainfall over a more even area. As well, by retaining water, trees help reduce the amount of topsoil the runs off into our sewers and streams. Leaves on the ground, keep moisture close to the ground aiding growth and traps chemicals keeping them out of lakes and rivers.
On a larger scale, trees maintain our global environment in ways that we are just beginning to understand. By acting as enormous carbon sinks, trees absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. If trees did not perform this vital function, there would be little to mitigate the effects of global warming caused by the Greenhouse Effect.
Of course trees benefit us not only our physical environment, but also attract birds and other wildlife, making our urban centers a more pleasant place to live. Picture the eerie silence that would befall a city were the song of birds entirely absent.
The Bounty from Trees
"...trees provide life itself."
Apple, pear, and orange trees are just a few of the types of trees that provide us with nourishment. Those living in cities do not often view trees as a source of food, but think how bare the produce section of your supermarket would look were there no trees on this earth. In less wealthy nations, governments have staged nation-wide campaigns to encourage its citizens to plant a tree or two on their land. For these people, always having fresh fruit to offer your family and friends is seen as vital. For most of us, the fruit of trees provide pleasurable tastes as well as much needed vitamins, but for others trees provide life itself.
In addition to food, trees are also a constant source of medicine for the human race. Consider the ginkgo tree. Dating back more than 300 million years, it is the oldest know species of tree. For centuries the Chinese have used tea made from ginkgo seeds as a cure for respiratory illnesses, such as asthma. In more modern times, ginkgo leaf extract has been used as a treatment for a wide range of aliments such as Alzheimer's and depression. The Native Americans use Aspen bark for reducing fever and fighting influenza. In recent times, the medical community has taken more notice of the natural cures found all around us as herbology continues to grow in popularity. Many people, tired of chemical treatments, turn to trees and plants for assistance.
Trees and Literature
"Rooted in the ground, they reach for the sky."
Research almost any country or culture on this planet and you are guaranteed to find that trees occupy and important place in the literary history of the region. From Christianity's very beginnings the apple tree set the stage for mankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In the Old Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh - written around 2000 B.C. - the Cedar was the dwelling place of the gods. In J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the Ents are large trees come to life and are, not surprisingly, often of great assistance to the forces of good. All of us can cite examples of the importance of trees in our favorite stories.
On a more philosophical level, trees allow our minds to wander. They occupy such a strong place in our stories because they are near to us and the heavens at the same time. Rooted in the ground, they reach for the sky. They are majestic and complicated. They seem at once friendly, like the trees in our own gardens, and fearful, like the tangled branches of an unwelcoming forest.
Indeed, without trees we would have no paper for our books.
The importance of trees seems apparent when one tries to imagine a world without them. Cleaner air and water, food for our tables and thoughts, as well as inspiration for our senses are but a few things given to us by trees. If nothing else, they give us an excuse to sit, close our eyes, and listen to the winds rustle though their leaves.