My main resolution for the fall semester was gratitude– reflecting deeply on thankfulness and truly expressing gratitude toward others at any possible convenience. The exercise of feeling and showing appreciation made me think more deeply about the things that I’m thankful for. One of the biggest ones was trees.
As an avid “Phineas & Ferb” viewer in my early childhood, middle childhood, teenage years, college years–you get the picture, I longed for that moment of sitting under a big tree, taking in the outdoors and “carpe diem-ing:” seizing the day. I’ve also grown this semester to become increasingly aware of, and appreciative of, spending time outside and taking in all of nature’s beauty. So, I made it my mission that for the first 30 days of fall, I would hug a tree every day.
This was an undertaking that excited me initially and proved to be very meaningful. Immediately, when wrapping my arms around the first tree, I felt an unprecedented sense of comfort. The tree, whose circumference was significantly larger than my own wingspan, seemed to take in all of my stress, leaving me relaxed and at ease. Scientifically, this is a real phenomenon— that trees emit a sort of vibration, as well as an increase in hormone levels within the body that promote emotional awareness and calmness.
Ever since that first hug, which was not at all deterred by the fact that it was actively raining, I looked forward to hugging a tree each day. I began to worry, however, about the effect of this relationship on the tree. Was it mutualistic? In short, maybe. Trees do not benefit greatly from this interaction, other than the argument that the carbon dioxide emitted from humans is closer to the tree, allowing it to continue photosynthesis. There are also theories that trees are able to remember this form of communication, and feel “happier” because of it. However, there are opportunities for harm.
One of the main concerns is the effect that humans can have on the environment surrounding the trees—being inconsiderate of what plants or species they may be stepping on, as well as what could possibly be removed or added to the trees when touched. While acknowledging that this research isn’t extremely in-depth, the ideas presented made me think more critically about our overall impacts on the environment, especially with actions that directly benefit us, such as hugging trees. As much as we say we’re thankful for our natural environment, are we truly treating it with that same sentiment?
From that moment on, somewhere around the two-week point, I paid much more attention to the art of tree-hugging. I looked with sincerity at the ground below, locating a safe path toward the tree, and acting more gently toward all of the nature in that area.
It’s worth noting that this self-help experiment wasn’t done in secret. Friends would ask me daily if I’d hugged my tree for the day, or would watch as I veered off from our walking path to metaphorically say thank you, wrapping my arms around the trunk of the tree. The rest of the world would go silent.
On day 30, I questioned whether or not I’d continue with this habit. Ultimately, as much joy as hugging trees brought me, I wouldn’t enforce it as a daily chore, but rather as an as-needed practice. Hug a tree when it’s important or warranted, but also allow it the space to flourish without human involvement. Appreciation can happen from afar, but it doesn’t hurt to show it sometimes too.
What started out as an attempt to become something I’ve idolized since childhood turned into an exercise in gratitude, and an opportunity for education. While continuing with practices that improved my overall mental health, I was able to promote an appreciation of nature to my immediate Muhlenberg community and was able to “branch out” in my understanding and perspective on the Earth.
In conclusion, I would encourage everyone to hug a tree, either metaphorically or physically. Find something that brings you peace every day. Find something in nature that brings you comfort. Find something in the world that makes you question your impact, and work to improve it. Learn, engage, question and of course, grow.